That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty as follows:
Most Gracious Sovereign,
We, Your Majesty's most dutiful and loyal subjects, the Commons of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, in Parliament assembled, beg leave to offer our humble thanks to Your Majesty for the Gracious Speech which Your Majesty has addressed to both Houses of Parliament.
It may help the House if I indicate what has been suggested to me for the pattern of the rest of the debate on the Address. Today the debate will be as yesterday, general; on Thursday the main speeches will relate to foreign affairs, on Friday to pensions and education, on Monday to economic affairs and on Tuesday to housing.
At the outset I ought to say that, having just heard what you had to say a few moments ago. Mr. Speaker, I hope it will be understood that it is not my intention, and I am sure there are other hon. Members in the same position, to remain for the whole of tomorrow, until all the business which has been announced has been completed.
We are grateful to you, Mr. Speaker, for having informed the House of the order of proceedings during the next few days, because it is to the advantage of hon. and right hon. Gentlemen on both sides of the House to know what is to be the order of the debate. We continue today the general debate on the Gracious Speech, begun yesterday, and we are to have the advantage, following what I have to say, of a speech by the right hon. Gentleman the Home Secretary. I am particularly pleased that he is to follow me because with his experience and knowledge as an ex-Chancellor there are one or two observations I would like to make concerning a remark which the Prime Minister made yesterday and with which he will be able to deal.
We have now had a Labour Government for five years and most of the political commentators are predicting that we are now starting the final Session before the General Election; in other words, that this will prove to be the last Gracious Speech which we shall be considering before polling day. Certainly the Prime Minister's speech yesterday at the start of our debate bore all the characteristics of the right hon. Gentleman's previous election campaigns—the studied failure, as I shall show, to answer the points raised by my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition, the deliberate avoidance of any reference to many of the principal issues which affect the lives and livelihoods of the British people, and the characteristically tortuous interpretations of events and situations calculated to mislead and deceive.
For the Prime Minister all this is part of a political game where the survival of the Labour Party takes precedence over truth and integrity, where, if I may quote the Prime Minister in his own cynical phrase
A week in politics is a long time.
In language which is perhaps a little more blunt that means
It matters not what a politician has said or done ; the public is too stupid to remember.
Even in respect of tomorrow's by-elections the right hon. Gentleman cares nothing for the record. Let me repeat before his own Front Bench what I said last night in Swindon, and if there is a single right hon. Gentleman opposite who wishes to come to the aid of the Prime Minister I will willingly give way when I have put the facts.
It was in March, 1964, that the present Prime Minister chided my right hon. Friend the Member for Kinross and West Perthshire (Sir Alec Douglas-Home), who was then Prime Minister, for not holding a number of by-elections. This is what the present Prime Minister then said :
At the very thought of putting his standing to the test by having one or two by-elections he has picked up his skirts and fled like a Victorian spinster surprised by a mouse".
When they go to the polls tomorrow in Swindon they will have been without
a Member of Parliament for 34 weeks ; when they go in Newcastle-under-Lyme they will have been without a Member for 36 weeks—the longest period of disfranchisement in our modern Parliamentary history.
Yesterday, at the very outset of his speech, the Prime Minister said that he would deal with the "more relevant" parts of my right hon. Friend's speech. It is therefore appropriate to look at just what the Prime Minister considers to be the irrelevant issues, the parts which he did not answer, the issues on which he did not touch.
My right hon. Friend raised the question of the cost of living. If hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite go to these by-elections where the main issues are being debated—in Swindon, where I was last night, or in Newcastle-under-Lyme, where I am going tonight—they will find that the question of the cost of living is the number one issue. But in the whole of the right hon. Gentleman's speech yesterday, 50 minutes of it, there was not a single reference to the cost of living and rising prices over these years, presumably because, in the eyes of the Prime Minister, that is not a relevant matter.
What about the enormous additional burden of taxation, which, together with the rising cost of living, has been holding back the rise in the standard of living in this country? Is the right hon. Gentleman and are his colleagues so out of touch with the people that they do not realise that these are the problems about which people are talking and that these are the problems which are causing immense hardship among certain sections of the population? But the right hon. Gentleman told us that he would deal only with the "relevant" issues, and so he did not as much as refer to them.
My right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition specifically asked at an early stage of his speech, when it was possible for the Prime Minister, if he did not know the figures, to find them, about unemployment. But the Prime Minister chose not to answer, because, as he said, he would deal only with the "relevant" issues. There was not a word about unemployment, which, as the House knows, has been running for months now at a record level.
Even when both the mover of the Loyal Address and the seconder, in those excellent speeches, raised the matter of overseas aid, a subject also taken up by my right hon. Friend, the Prime Minister had nothing whatever to say. Why? For the simple reason, which was not challenged yesterday and cannot be challenged today, that under a Socialist Government the amount given in aid to the under-developed countries, expressed as a proportion of the gross national product, has fallen.
The Prime Minister talked about what he called yesterday the economic strength of the nation. He went back to 1964 and gave us his analysis of the position five years ago. Those who were here to listen to him will remember what he had to say about the details of five years ago. But what is the truth about these live years of Labour Government? I am willing to give way on any of these points as I deal with them in some detail. We have suffered five years of continuous squeeze. Our economic growth has been held back. The Government have contracted a vast increase in our international debts, every penny of which will have to be paid for. The cost of living has rocketed. Bank Rate has been at an all-time record. Unemployment has been higher for longer than at any time since the end of the war. And the Labour Government have devalued the £.
That is the truth which the Prime Minister so studiously avoided in the speech which he made to the House of Commons yesterday. It is the truth which the electorate will recognise whenever the right hon. Gentleman cares to call a General Election. [An HON. MEMBER:" Do not be too sure] Hon. Members opposite may sneer and one of them may tell me not to be too sure, but let me set out the facts, and if any hon. or right hon. Gentleman opposite wishes to challenge them, let him intervene and I shall be happy to give way.
Who can deny that our people have been subjected to five years of continuous economic squeeze, five whole years? It is true. Still we have Bank Rate at 8 per cent. Still the mortgage interest rate stands at 8· per cent. Hon. Members opposite may laugh when I talk about a mortgage interest rate of 8· per cent., but the two million people trying to buy their homes at that rate will not laugh.
When the other day I was involved in a discussion on television with the right hon. Gentleman the Minister of Defence, he said, "Ah, but our option mortgage scheme has helped 300,000 people ". But what about the two million who have not been helped and who relied on the undertakings and the pledges given at the last General Election? What had the Prime Minister to say about all this yesterday? Not a single word.
It is because of this continuous squeeze that our economy has been expanding at a rate little more than half that under the Conservative Government in the late 1950s and the early 1960s. Here, again, these are facts which cannot be challenged or denied by anybody. Is there one right hon. or hon. Gentleman opposite who is prepared to deny that our economic performance under the Labour Government has been a dismal failure? That again is the truth, and all the facts go to prove it.
The right hon. Gentleman denies it. I must give him credit. He at any rate has a little more guts and courage than all the serried ranks on the Government side. No wonder they do not want him back. The right hon. Gentleman denies it, but in fact he knows that it is the truth. This is why the economy has been doing so badly.
What of the cost of living? It is all very well for the right hon. Gentleman the Home Secretary, who was Chancellor of the Exchequer for most of this period, to laugh, but he as much as anybody has been responsible for this fact. He as much as anybody is responsible, for example, for the fact that over the last four years of Labour Government for which we have figures the rate of economic expansion on average was 2·1 per cent., whereas during the last six years of Conservative Government the rate on average was 3· per cent. For three of those four years it was the right hon. Gentleman who was in charge of our economy. He cannot get rid of some of the responsibility by saying that it was in part the responsibility of the Department of Economic Affairs, because we know what has happened to that. I am sure that the right hon. Member for Stepney (Mr. Shore), who was there, will be the first to admit that he had no say in what was being decided.
Let me turn to the cost of living, which all the research by the Labour Party and the Conservative Party and all the independent researchers shows to be, month in, month out, year in, year out, the one issue above everything else which troubles ordinary men and women. What did the Prime Minister have to say about that yesterday? Not a single word. Why did he not tell the House that under the Labour Government prices had been rising nearly twice as fast as before they set about imposing a Socialist economy on this country? This, of course, is one of the basic reasons why our standard of living has failed to rise, as everyone hoped it would, as much as in the countries of our competitors. Again I issue this challenge: there is not one hon. or right hon. Member opposite who can deny that most of the workers in France and Germany, for instance, not only now have a standard of living as high as we have, but have better prospects for an improved standard of living than have the British workers after five years of Socialism. This is true.
Would not the right hon. Gentleman agree that when he is giving figures about the percentage increase in the cost of living he should also give percentage figures for the increase in salaries and wages?
If we take into account the increase in wages and salaries, the increase in the cost of living and the increase in taxation, we find that the standard of living of the British people has been rising at precisely half the rate at which it was rising under the Conservative Government.
Let me answer the hon. Gentleman who made an interjection. All I said was that most French and German workers have better future prospects as far as the standard of living is concerned than British workers have after five years of Socialism.
Would the right hon. Gentleman give his justification for saying what he has just said—namely, that the stan- dard of living of Continental people is likely to rise at a greater rate than that of British people—in view of the fact that we have, through the Government, ploughed back over £1,000 million every year into industry to re-equip it so that it will be able to compete in the markets of the world?
Perhaps I could read the passage on which my remarks were based. Perhaps right hon. and hon Gentlemen opposite will listen to this :
I wonder how many members of our party "—
that is the Labour Party—
have grasped the fact that most Germans, French and Belgian workers are not only as well off today as British workers but their prospects in terms of current trends are better ".
That was the Foreign Secretary—he is not present in the Chamber—speaking at Brighton last month.
Whether he was trying to boost the Common Market or not, I assume that he was speaking the truth. I think that we had better leave it at that.
What about the balance of payments? Yesterday, the Prime Minister criticised me for some comments which I made about the way in which Ministers had presented the recent trade figures. Since he chose to refer to me, I should like to answer him. It is appropriate to deal with this matter today because on this very day the last of the 170 American Phantom aircraft is landing at Alder-grove, in Northern Ireland, and being delivered to the United Kingdom.
I made it clear that there is no justification whatsoever for criticising officials who calculate the figures and lay them before Ministers. Nor do I necessarily advocate a change in the basis of the computation of those figures. Others may disagree with me. What I do say, and what I said, is that Ministers so arranged the presentation of the figures that both television and newspaper commentators, who inevitably had to act quickly, were grossly misled.
I can illustrate my criticism precisely by putting to the Home Secretary two straightforward questions which, as an ex-Chancellor of the Exchequer, he will be able to answer. I hope that he will reply because he knows about this system as well as anybody. The trade figures for the past two months were excellent, but the presentation by Ministers led one commentator after another to state that the trade figures for August and September showed a surplus of £66 million.
The two straightforward questions which I should like the ex-Chancellor of the Exchequer to answer are these. Is it or is it not true that the August and September figures contained a large number of export returns which belonged to previous months, and that if these are subtracted the surplus drops from £66 million to £44 million? The second question is this: is it or is it not true that the August and September figures did not include the import of American military aircraft, and that if these had been included the joint surplus for August and September, splashed by television and newspapers as £66 million, would have dropped by a further amount to bring the surplus not to £66 million but to something nearer £20 million?
Those are two absolutely straight questions. I do not say that the computation of these figures is in any way wrong. I am pleased that the Financial Secretary has joined us—[An HON. MEMBER : "He is not the Financial Secretary now."] I apologise to the right hon. Gentleman and offer him my congratulations. I am not saying that the computation of the figures is wrong. What I am saying is that Ministers should have made crystal clear to the Press and television what the significance of these other matters was.
If what I have said is true, as I believe it is, it follows that unless the Press and television commentators are regarded by the Government as quite stupid, they were grossly and inexcusably misled by Ministers. I do not say that this was deliberately done, but I believe that an answer is required.
Does the right hon. Gentleman say that it was or was not deliberately done?
I am not saying, as some people have said, that it was deliberately done. I do not know. I am saying that, whether it was or was not done by individual Ministers, one thing is quite certain, and that is that through the Press and television the nation was misled.
I wish to be clear about this, and I should like to put the point to the right hon. Gentleman again. If I understand it, he is saying that the figures were not deliberately misleading but did mislead. If they were not designed to mislead but did mislead, how does he explain what he said in his speech:
The official figures have been deliberately designed to deceive and the British people have been sold a pup."?
Is it not clear from his speech that he is saying that Ministers deliberately set out to mislead about the figures? What is his allegation?
I do not know whether the Government as a whole knew what was going to be done and whether there was deliberate deception. I have no doubt that the right hon. Gentleman, when he replies, will deny it. All that I can say is that on the evidence as it was produced in one national newspaper—[HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."]—All right; what is wrong with that? All that I can say is that it looked to me as though Ministers, or a Minister, had deliberately set out to ensure that the country, through the Press and television, got a totally false impression.
On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. It will be within the recollection of the House that the right hon. Gentleman has gone to some lengths to invite interventions, with the assistance of his right hon. Friend the Opposition Chief Whip. Would it not be more manly if, having invited interventions, the right hon. Gentleman gave way?
I have given way on two or three occasions to the Home Secretary, and I have put my questions. I leave it to him to answer. The questions are on record.
I am pleased that the Chancellor of the Exchequer has arrived, because his right hon. Friend the Prime Minister had something to say yesterday about the balance of payments and gave a detailed analysis of the position at the end of the Conservative period of office. The Chancellor of the Exchequer will remember that detail. It was the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor himself who said—I agree, and I think that most people will agree—that the current account "is certainly the best guide to our current economic performance ".
What are the facts? Yesterday, we had all those references to the past from the Prime Minister, and we should now put the record straight. During the 13 years of Conservative Government, the aggregate of the current account—which the Chancellor says is the best guide to performance—taking good years and bad years together, showed a surplus of £773 million overall. During the five years of the Labour Government, the aggregate of the current account, including the last two months and on the basis of the figures as they were presented by the President of the Board of Trade, shows a deficit for the whole period of at least £300 million. On top of that, we have the vast increase in debt, most of which falls to be repaid not by this Government but by the next and succeeding Governments. That is the truth of the situation.
In that case, I wonder what the position is as regards the past five years. The Prime Minister was referring to the past, and, after all, it was the right hon. Gentleman himself who said that what we wanted was to keep going all the time and the last thing we wanted—I cannot find the quotation at the moment, but this is the effect of it—was a burst right at the last minute in the last year before an election. I think that the hon. Member for Caithness and Sutherland (Mr. Maclennan) will, on reflection, agree that what I have said is right. The Prime Minister's actual words were:
Our object is to ensure the purposive expansion—
he must have copied that from Mr. Harold Macmillan—
of our industry, steady and sustained; not just a feverish burst whenever an election is near ".
So now we know.
The harsh fact is that the United Kingdom enters the 1970s with an enormous handicap imposed not by an idle and feckless populace but as a result of five years of Socialist incompetence and deceit. It was Sir Robert Horne—right hon. Gentlemen opposite will recall that he was at one time Chancellor of the Exchequer—who once said of the Liberals and Lloyd George that they were a party with "just a crook to lead it, without a shepherd ". I do not know why hon. Gentlemen opposite look so glum. I have not mentioned the Prime Minister, and I should not dream of casting such an aspersion on our respected and revered Prime Minister.
The Labour Government as a whole, by slick party political manoeuvring, have made the nation's task infinitely more difficult than it would otherwise have been. What is so depressing is that the Gracious Speech and the political principles lying behind it are all part of the same dogged determination to impose upon this country a collectivist society in which the State assumes, year in, year out, greater responsibilities and greater powers, and in which, every day, effective freedom of choice is being eroded and the freedom of individual decision is curtained. This is the essence of Socialism. It is what Socialism is about.
Now, we are all to be persuaded to forget the unpleasant facts and the broken pledges. The old slogan which we used to see on the hoardings, "You know Labour Government works", has been dropped and in its place we are adjured to concentrate the mind on Labour's soul. It has all been explained in a trade paper about advertising called "Campaign". It is all on the front page, and very interesting reading it is:
The chief creative man behind the Labour Party's campaign this autumn is Mike Oxley … Oxley, who created the 'Yummy, yummy' campaign for Danish bacon, has written Labour's campaign theme and copy … Brian Murphy, the freelance copywriter who collaborated on the 'Lets go with Labour' and 'You Know Labour Government Works' campaigns in 1964 and 1966 has not been called in. Murphy, who created the most controversial ad of last Christmas. Yardley's ' What's Passion-Pants giving Lover-Boy for Christmas?' —says he has talent to offer and time to spare".
It was Samuel Johnson who said,
Promise, large promise, is the soul of an advertisement".
If anyone doubts that this Gracious Speech represents a further lurch towards collectivism and the curtailment of individual decision and choice, what about the doctrinaire proposal to crush the grammar schools out of existence and force upon the whole nation a system of education regardless of local knowledge, regardless of the views of the education authorities, and without heed for the views of teachers or of parents?
Yesterday the House heard what my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition had to say about that. When challenged in his speech, the Prime Minister was unable to answer because there is no answer to the question which was posed about the curtailment of decision-making by local authorities. All I can say is that that vicious piece of authoritarian legislation—for that is what it is—we shall fight.
As to the proposal to nationalise the ports, whatever reorganisation of the ports may be necessary and desirable, the record of State ownership is surely such that this is the very last solution to the problem.
Then there are proposals in the Gracious Speech for superannuation. The price which is to be paid, it is now becoming all too clear from the constant leaks which we hear about the Government's consultations, is that millions of men and women relying on occupational pension schemes are to be clobbered, and this will become apparent when we debate these proposals.
Then there is the proposal to extend the powers of the nationalised gas industry to enable it to do what the Gracious Speech is pleased to call "market petroleum ". Well, I doubt very much whether the 14 million motorists of Britain will be bubbling over with enthusiasm and joy at the prospects of a new chain of State-owned Socialist filling stations. But we shall see.
We can be absolutely sure of one thing. If it were not for the impending election within a year or 18 months or so we should also be promised the Labour Party's proposals which are set out in the document "Agenda for a Generation"—a wealth tax, a gifts tax, even more nationalisation.
When one realises that the proportion of the gross domestic product taken in taxation under this Government has already gone up from 24·8 per cent. to 31· per cent. it is incredible that right hon. Gentlemen opposite should still be talking about additional burdens of taxation.
Incidentally, the Prime Minister yesterday said a very strange thing. He said that my right hon. Friend yesterday had suggested certain improvements in the social services and that this would make it impossible to cut taxation. This, strangely enough, is what all the candidates are saying at the by-elections.
Oh, it is very interesting, I can assure the hon. Member. For example, e had it in Swindon last night. You never know what you may pick up in Swindon, but this is what the Labour candidate says:
Beware of Tory promises on tax cuts and improved social services. It just can't be done.
Well, the Prime Minister and his candidates are absolutely wrong, for that is precisely what the Conservative Government did do.
We "did" ; not "going to do". We increased expenditure on social services by 50 per cent. in real terms and over the same period cut the rate of taxation by £2,000 million.
The fact is that where the party opposite has gone wrong, either wittingly or unwittingly, is that through the mouth of its Prime Minister it said—
The right hon. Gentleman is referring to social policy and the social services. He and I have been here roughly for the same period of ten years, and I would like to remind him that during those years of Conservative Government, from 1955 to 1964, a number of delegations from this side went to see the right hon. Gentleman who was then Minister of Pensions to plead for a slight improvement in the position of various groups of pensioners, including the many forgotten people whom the Tory Party has now taken up, and that nothing was done.
Well, I imagine they were the same people who went with the same deputations to plead for the abolition of prescription charges. Is that right?
I was saying that where the party opposite has gone wrong is that they have all said through the mouth of their Prime Minister that they could carry out their policy without any general increase in taxation. They are out, so far, to the tune of £3,000 million a year.
While we are on the question of the cost of the proposals of the Conservative Party, which was referred to yesterday by the Prime Minister, there is a very strange puzzle concerning some correspondence with the Prime Minister's office. It is just over a year ago—everybody in the House will recollect it —that the Conservative Party published a substantial policy document called "Make Life Better ". The whole House will recall that the Prime Minister said that he had ordered the Treasury to cost
the document. Now we have here two Chancellors of the Exchequer—the Chancellor and the ex-Chancellor—for this five-year period, and I am sure that the Home Secretary will be able to deal with this point. A year ago the Prime Minister said that the Treasury had been ordered to cost the Conservative policy document. Nine months later a lady member of the public sent this letter to the Prime Minister:
I cannot remember just when it was but it was some time ago it was announced that you had ordered the Treasury to work out the cost of the Tories' proposals. I have never seen anything more about this and I would like to know whether it was ever done. If it was, perhaps you could let me know what the cost was.
So much for that letter. It took five weeks for a private secretary at No. 10 to dispatch this enlightening reply:
I am writing on behalf of the Prime Minister to acknowledge the receipt of your letter of July 15.
Naturally, the lady expected something further, but two months elapsed and so she wrote again to the Prime Minister :
About three months ago I wrote to you on a question which you had yourself raised, i.e. that you were going to cost various propositions of the Conservative Party. As I heard no more of this from either you or any other of your Ministers I made inquiry from you about it. I received an extremely abrupt acknowledgment of my letter. It gave no explanation or infomation at all, and I presumed, apparently wrongly, that further details would be later forthcoming.
And she asked for an answer. Well, four weeks went by, and then just one week ago the lady received this very strange reply, not from a normal civil servant, on paper from No. 10 with the Prime Minister's address on it, as had acknowledged the earlier letter, but from a gentleman called Mr. Gerald Kaufman. I have the letter here, and he says this:
The Prime Minister has now asked me to reply to your letter to him of 23rd September, and to apologise for the delay in answering your letter. With regard to your query about the costing of the various Conservative proposals, the Prime Minister did make some reference to these in his speech at the Labour Party Conference at Brighton last month. I am enclosing a copy of this speech and would refer you to pages 11 and 12 in it. I trust this will be of some assistance to you.
I have got the speech here. [HON. MEMBERS: "Read it.") On pages 11 and 12 there is not the slightest reference to any costing by the Treasury. There is simply reference to the Prime Minister's
own estimate of two defence proposals and a brief quotation from a contributor to the Daly Telegraph.
What has happened? We should like to know, and the Chancellor and ex-Chancellor are here. What has happened to the costing which the Prime Minister ordered the Treasury to undertake a year ago? If it ever took place, and I assume that it did, this was an exercise conducted by public servants at the public's expense and we are entitled to have the benefit of the Treasury's advice. There is no security aspect here ; there is absolutely no reason why we should not be told precisely what the Treasury advised the Prime Minister a year ago And we do not want the Prime Minister's own estimate. What we want is the Treasury's estimate produced a year ago, and we are entitled to have it, and we want it in full, and we want it unexpurgated by the Prime Minister. The two right ho n. Gentlemen know the answer, and I hope that we shall have it this afternoon.
In the Gracious Speech, as in the Labour Party's document "Agenda for a Generation ", the Prime Minister and his colleagues have chosen the ground on which they intend to fight the General Election, but it will do their party no good, for one overriding reason, that the country is sick and tired of Socialism and of all that goes with it. The British people long for a return to a society where the all-pervading restraint of the State is replaced by the spur of individual responsibility, where the diktat of the Minister gives way to the rule of law, and where the seeping discretion of the bureaucrat no longer encroaches on the liberty of the subject ; and these are the principles for which we shall fight.
It was 3.29 p.m. before the right hon. Member for Altrincham and Sale (Mr. Barber) found himself able to refer to the Queen's Speech. I am not surprised, but, if I may remind him, that is the purpose of the debate. He made two fleeting references at 3.23 p.m. to two of the 27 Measures contained in it, and that was the sum total of his discussion of the Speech that is before us. I do not blame him. It is a very good Speech. Indeed, until I heard him today, it struck me how little complaint there had been in yesterday's debate, and therefore how straightforward my task today would be.
I realise that if I devote myself to the Speech I shall not interest the right hon. Gentleman, but, nevertheless, that is the purpose of the debate and I would like to spend some time on it. I shall hope to come back to some of his points later. The reception given to the Queen's Speech yesterday by both sides of the House, as well as by some newspapers today, should give the Prime Minister cause for a great deal of satisfaction. It has been widely accepted, even by Conservative newspapers, as containing a relevant series of proposals designed to improve the state of the nation. I take it that this is why the right hon. Gentleman did not feel that he should spend very much time on it.
We should look at the programme against the backcloth of world events, as my right hon. Friends the Chancellor of the Exchequer and the Foreign Secretary will be doing later. The programme contained in the Queen's Speech has been drawn up against a background of greater stability and certainty than there has been for a number of years. Three of the major currencies of the world—the franc, the mark and sterling—have found a new parity and a good and new relationship with each other and with the dollar, and, thanks to international good sense, the fever for gold has died down. The special drawing rights have added a new dimension to world credit, and it has become clear that neither gold nor any other currency can challenge the dollar as the most acceptable means of exchange throughout the world.
The uncertainties in the international money markets are now much less than they have been in the last four or five years. We have, and are likely to have, a new-found stability that, given good international management, should last the world for some time. This is bound to have its impact on our export progress and on world trade generally. The whole point about stable monetary rates and stable rates of parity is the confidence that they give to world trade.
No, not at the moment. As so much of Britain's prosperity depends on stability in the world, and upon confidence, this settlement of three of the most important currencies should enable us to look forward with greater confidence than in the past.
I said that neither any other currency nor gold could challenge the dollar at present because of the industrial and financial strength of the United States, and that position is likely to last for a long time to come. The only unsettling factor for Britain's trade, and for the rest of Europe as well as other countries, would be if the United States were to take some of the criticisms at their face value and either slow down its rate of development or, alternatively, try to get a balance of payments surplus. The consequences of that would be very uncomfortable for the rest of us, and those who are loudest in their complaints would then be asking the United States to go back into deficit.
Another point on which adjustment has been made is in relation to the Suez Canal. When I was Chancellor of the Exchequer the closure of the Suez Canal came at a difficult moment and cost us very heavily in foreign exchange, but there is little doubt that we have been able to adjust ourselves to the economic consequences of the closure of the Suez Canal, and this factor, which was of extreme importance in 1967, is of less decisive importance today.
Given a modicum of good fortune for the world, the prospects for some economic stability are greater than they have been during the last three or four years and, therefore, the economic and social policies of the Government are being developed against a background and a backcloth of greater stability. I mention these matters to show the extent to which the economy and well-being of our own peoples is dependent on forces that exist outside these islands, and it is necessary constantly to remind ourselves of this.
I read in a newspaper this morning a rather jaundiced article by a distinguished political correspondent who is well known to us all and who has just spent three months in Washington. He referred to the situation back here as being like the politics of Toytown. If he is referring to the scale of the problems, I take his point, as there is no doubt that the United States has immense social, political and environmental problems. It carries the burden of the defence of the free world in Europe, and has great problems in Asia. The United States has an awful burden on its shoulders, and, although this is not quite the point he was making, by comparison, some of our problems are peripheral and marginal and could be overcome. We should take account of this.
Whether that is a matter for congratulation or for sympathy depends to some extent upon one's age and what generation one belongs to. The older ones of us who remember Britain imposing her might in the past may regret this and sigh for those tingling days of the past, but I do not think that many younger people feel that way.
Some will argue that this island is blessed to be free from so many of these terrifying problems. But we should not swing too violently from one extreme position to the other. These islands can and do make a valuable contribution in forming opinion and exerting influence throughout the world. This should continue to be our rôle and we should develop our influence in this way. We have been in danger of becoming, and indeed are being encouraged to become, too introspective. I agree with the newspaper columnists to this extent, that it is time we began to look outwards once more.
I will give one example. I listened to the one o'clock news today, and the second item was a description, with recorded and dramatic sound effects, of a demonstration outside Manchester Town Hall by 350 dustmen. If that is the second most important thing that has happened in Britain or in the world today, the B.B.C. should either give up the one o'clock news or find a news editor with a sense of values. It is incredible that there should be this concentration on the trivial domestic scene. It is far too characteristic of the present time.
The signs are that in the next twelve months—and this is a debate on the programme for one Parliamentary Session —our export and trading prospects are bright. For this the country's thanks are due to the unswerving efforts of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, who has never wavered in the policies he has followed since he assumed office in 1967. It must be extremely gratifying to him and to his friends to see the fruits of those policies now showing in our vastly improved trading balance over the last 12 months.
I make one qualification to this brighter prospect. If because of unjustified wage increases running ahead of our productivity our costs should get out of line with other countries, then our exports will undoubtedly fall and our economic strength will suffer. This should be remembered, especially by those groups in the trade union movement—this applies particularly to the Midland motorcar employees—who are practising aggressive trade unionism to force up wages to a point beyond what the market will stand. This is the only prospect which could set us back during the next 12 months.
The right hon. Member for Altrincham and Sale is reduced to attacking the statistics in order to explain away the improvement in the balance of payments. He does not attack the civil servants who prepared them—they should not be criticised—but he attacks Ministers for falsely presenting these statistics in a way which is designed to mislead the people. That is a falsehood, and he knows it. He makes the allegation only for party gain because this is the only way in which he believes he can try to detract from the glowing performance of Britain's exports at the present time.
I have seen both the figures and their preparation over a period of three years, and sine that time I have followed them through closely. The right hon. Gentleman should know about them, too, since he has been both Economic Secretary and Financial Secretary to the Treasury. He knows that the figures are not prepared or designed to mislead. I have read the explanations of the statistics and have inquired carefully into the matter as a result of the right hon. Gentleman's allegations.
The right hon. Gentleman wanted to get the maximum dirt out of it without accusing anybody. That was the basis of his approach, and, let us be fair, he has succeeded in getting the maximum dirt out of it. The Chancellor of the Exchequer intends to reply fully to him when he speaks in the debate, and I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will be here to listen. Then he can apologise, in face of the overwhelming case which will be made when the Chancellor deploys the answer to him.
The right hon. Gentleman is now trying to explain away, as seen from his speech at the Library Lecture Hall, Sale, why we are not giving any minor relaxation in the travel allowance. He was astonished at this. What is his explanation? His explanation is that we are faking the figures and therefore cannot afford to give anything away.
I remind him of one of his own speeches, in somewhat similar circumstances, which was made in Hull when he was Economic Secretary to the Treasury, on an occasion when there had been an improvement not in our balance of payments but in our reserves. I quote his words:
The drain on our reserves has not merely been halted but reversed. Recent weeks have seen a substantial inflow of funds
and he added that there was good reason to believe that much of this was not "hot money". He went on:
I must say to you quite bluntly that there is no justification for the thought that there is imminent any relaxation of the measures designed to bring about a lasting solution of our external imbalance. We should be deluding ourselves (and jeopardising the standard of living of our people) if we assumed that, because of two or three months' good reserve figures, we are out of the wood.
I come now to the difference between the right hon. Gentleman and the Chancellor of the Exchequer, for this is how the right hon. Gentleman went on:
Until we are sure that we are going to get a shift of resources away from the home market towards exports, and until we can see exports rising strongly, any softening would be the height of folly.
The only difference is that he said it and did not do it, whereas the Chancellor of the Exchequer is saying it and doing it.
There is one question I should like to ask the Home Secretary. But before I do so I will answer what he has said. The simple fact is that when we were in office we did not have a continuous stop for five years. We had relaxations, and the right hon. Gentleman knows it. The Prime Minister, as much as anybody over the last few years, has continually said that we would be in surplus in 1967 and in 1968. Those are the facts. I will now put my question to the right hon. Gentleman.
I have given way three times to the right hon. Gentleman. Will he answer "yes" or "no" to the two questions I put to him? Why must he wait for his right hon. Friend to give the answer? He knows the answer. He must know whether or not what I said is true.
On the earlier part of the right hon. Gentleman's remarks, of course I remember the relaxations which took place from time to time in the previous Administration. I have every cause to remember them. They saddled me with a balance of payments deficit of £800 million. The next Government, after the forthcoming General Election, will have a balance of payments surplus for the Chancellor to take over, not a deficit.
Why does the right hon. Gentleman not add "plus £3,000 million of additional debt "? Will he now answer my two questions? What has he to hide? Does he not know the answer, or is he not prepared to give it? Why does he not want to get the record straight now? He is an ex-Chancellor, and he says he understands the figures ; so why does he not answer my questions?
I do not know why the right hon. Gentleman was so quick to intervene, unless he has a guilty conscience. I had not finished what I was saying before he leapt to his feet. Is he worried that his stunt will fail before it gets on its legs? I can promise him that he will have to wait—[HON. MEMBERS : "Why? "]—because he will be utterly destroyed next Monday. That is why.
Right hon. Gentlemen opposite cannot be as childish as all that. The statistics are completely consistent with each other month by month. The right hon. Gentleman knows that and that is what I am answering. The Chancellor of the Ex- chequer, whose responsibility this matter is, will take him apart on Monday. Then the right hon. Genleman will have to apologise.
I will give way to the right hon. Gentleman in a moment. I hope he, too, is not going to lend himself to this stunt. He was studiously more careful in what he had to say yesterday than his right hon. Friend has been. I now intend to discuss some important matters in the Queen's Speech rather than deal with a stunt upon which too much time has been spent already. I want to discuss a number of issues, and I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will not try to tempt me away from that particular ground.
The Home Secretary has devoted the first part of his speech to matters which concern the Treasury. He has just said that he has been through all the statistics and has satisfied himself about them. In that case, will he answer the two questions which have been put to him? They are perfectly clear and he must know the answers—or does he refuse to do so until after the by-elections are over?
The right hon. Gentleman sinks lower with every intervention that he makes. He knows that this has nothing to do with the by-elections. [HON.MEMBERS : "0h."] In that case, with respect, I will not bother with this any more. The right hon. Member for Altrincham and Sale started the stunt, and he has committed himself to allegations which he knows are false. I tell him that his allegations are false, and he should withdraw them. He will be made to withdraw them on Monday, and it would be better if he did it in a decent fashion before being made to look too much out of countenance.
I would now like to return to the Gracious Speech, which reflects and builds on the improving economic situation, and I mention some of the proposed legislation against which should be measured the life of our people at work and in their social relationships. [Interruption.] I hope that all my hon. Friends will not leave the Chamber. I have some interesting comments to make about the right hon. Gentleman later on.
Let me mention some of the Measures in this massive programme. There are those concerned with equal pay, industria1 safety, labour-only sub-contracting, the safety of merchant shipping and fishermen, coal miners' redundancy, secondary comprehensive education, the control of drugs, new pension provisions and, indeed, pensions going up next week, children and welfare service reorganisation, and limited house rents. It is a massive programme. The Leader of the Opposition hardly referred to it in his speech yesterday, and today his right hon. Friend spoke of only two of the Measures. He did not mention those of which I have just spoken.
What led the Leader of the Opposition to describe these Measures as being irrelevant to the British people? What was his reason for saying that the great mass of these items are not relevant to the British people? These Measures are very relevant to the elderly coalminer who is made redundant. They are very relevant to the child who is deprived of proper care. They are extremely relevant to the woman in industry who has been underpaid and is to get equal pay. They are very relevant to the parents of a drug addict and to the old-age pensioner who will get his increase next week—after the by-elections.
It is one of the most massive programmes that we have seen. In 1963 and 1964, the Conservatives ran out of steam. This programme shows the difference between a positive philosophy and the negative one which they have been putting forward.
I want to concentrate on three items. They are drugs, Seebohm, and then perhaps a word about Northern Ireland, as these are three pieces of legislation which affect me as Home Secretary.
The Drugs Bill which I shall be bringing forward will replace the present rigid and ramshackle collection of Drugs Acts by a single comprehensive Measure. Present legislation is fragmentary and inadequate. Ten years ago the drugs problem was small and seemingly simple. Heroin and cannabis occupied practically the whale of the stage. Today the drugs scene is much wider. Those which are misused include a wide range of stimulants, sedatives and halucinogens. The problem is mainly one of young people.
The effects of some of these drugs are not completely measurable, but we know enough to say that many young people are running into very grave dangers. Both addicts and experimenters are catholic in their choice, and the measures needed for the most dangerous drugs, therefore, have to be applied widely.
In the last few months I have been in consultation with a number of authorities on what should be appropriate remedies. When my Bill comes before the House, I hope it will demonstrate that we are moving towards a more scientific control of the problem. It should be possible to provide a selective range of controls of new substances and drugs very quickly after they come on the scene. My present intention is to ask that the Government should be given power to license the production and distribution of drugs which can be misused, as well as the import and export of such drugs. I am consulting a wide range of professional and other organisations to get absolutely right our control over the prescription of drugs. The doctor who does not resist the importuning of a drug misuser or would-be trafficker undermines the work of his professional colleagues. We had a recent illustration of how long it takes to deal with this kind of doctor, whose prescribing may be a major and long-term factor over the drug problem.
It is my conclusion that drug trafficking is a more vile trade than the taking of drugs. Therefore, I propose to distinguish between the penalties for those who push drugs and traffic in drugs and for those who take them. The difference in definition will be difficult to draw up. It is one of the matters on which I shall want the assistance of the House. Interest in and concern about it will spread, and I propose steep penalties for those who traffic in this vile trade.
The hon. Member for Walthamstow, East (Mr. Michael McNair-Wilson) raised a very important question yesterday about education, and I will reply to him now. The Department of Education and Science reissued its handbook entitled "Health Education" to teachers last year. It included an enlarged chapter on drugs and their effects. The initiative has been well received. Pamphlets have been and are being issued by the B.M.A. Family Doctor publications, and there is no real difficulty about initiatives by local education authorities. In some local authorities, local liaison groups have been meeting, and I hope that more will do so.
I turn now to the implementation of the Seebohm Report. As my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister said yesterday, consultations are still going on, and we have to keep an eye on the inter-related developments in local government structure and the health services. But it is our expectation that social workers and their professional organisations will not have to await the announcement of firm Government conclusions on these other matters. It is our hope and aim to introduce a Bill early in the new year.
The Bill will take as its starting point the central recommendation of the Committee that local authority social services should be amalgamated. As constituency Members, we all know the range of services available, the personal stresses and strains of life which make the services necessary, and the determination and devotion of the workers concerned. There was wide support for the central Seebohm recommendation in favour of a single social services department based on an amalgamation of the children's service and the welfare services for the elderly, the handicapped and the homeless and certain social work services now provided by local health departments.
Different views are expressed about the appropriate form of organisation, but everyone whom we have consulted—local authorities, professional organisations and voluntary bodies—welcomes the idea of a family service combining in one unit the growing resources now being provided by local authorities into a more effective team. The Bill will reflect this agreement when the consultations have been finally concluded. I hope that that will be early in the new year.
The legislation will provide the foundation on which each local authority can work out a scheme for taking care of people instead of taking people into care. That is the basis of it, and we are adapting our Whitehall machinery to cope with this kind of legislation by setting up an inter-departmental Social Work Group composed of officials of the Departments concerned which will give us co-ordinated advice on the matter.
I turn for a moment to Northern Ireland and the legislation which will be involved there. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence will shortly be laying before the House his proposals for a local defence force under military command on the lines laid down by the Hunt Committee and accepted by the Northern Ireland Government as well as by Her Majesty's Government. He proposes to supplement his Bill with a White Paper which will give a full account of such matters as the command, deployment and equipment of the new force which will not normally be spelled out in the legislation. Meanwhile, the Northern Ireland Government are nearly ready to announce their own proposals for an auxiliary police force on the lines of our special constabulary, which, with the local defence force, will replace the present B Specials when the new forces are operating.
The creation of these new forces will leave the Royal Ulster Constabulary with the civilian police functions that are normal to a police force in Great Britain. For this reason I propose putting before the House a piece of legislation, which has been foreshadowed in the Queen's Speech, and to which I hope the House will give its assent. It will build on this idea of a Great Britain style civilian force and make possible closer association than can be secured at present between the R.U.C. and the police forces in Great Britain. The Bill will be concerned with the secondment of personnel between the R.U.C. and Great Britain forces with temporary reinforcement from Great Britain of the R.U.C. in emergencies. These links are important in themselves.
It is also important that I should be able to secure the support of the police forces of Great Britain in this work. I am, therefore, taking a little time to try to explain and to consult them so that they will know what will be required of them if there is this exchange and they are called upon to help. Therefore, I hope to present this legislation within a relatively short period after my consultations are concluded.
I do not give such an assurance, because it is not my responsibility. I do not go that far, not because I do not wish to answer the question, but because it is a matter entirely for the new police authority which will he set up in Northern Ireland. It will be for that authority and for the men concerned, no doubt in consultation, to settle. That matter will not concern Westminster in any sense.
Next month, when the Expiring Laws Continuance Bill comes up, we shall be able to make our usual wide-ranging review of the arrangements for immigration control. In addition to this element in the Session's programme, we shall all be glad to have the continuing work of the Select Committee on Race Relations and Immigration. I should like to pay tribute to its work as well as to the work of the Community Relations Commission and the Race Relations Board. Their work of promoting better race relations is proceeding against the background of firm control over the numbers of immigrants coming into the country. In recent months, as a result of the legislation and administrative decisions which have been taken, a great deal has been done to stop abuses of the control, and I believe that the whole situation is now well in hand. If further abuses show themselves, I shall not hesitate to close them up.
In the first eight months of this year the total number of immigrants arriving for settlement, as a result of the closure of a number of these loopholes, is about 25 per cent. less than in the corresponding months of 1968.
I believe that the British people's knowledge that the numbers are under firm control has done quite a lot to take the heat out of the debate on these matters for the time being. But we must continue to work positively and constantly at race relations. It is not sufficient just to control the numbers coming in and hope that the problem will solve itself. In the quieter atmosphere that we now have, I believe that this can be done more effectively. I mention in particular the practical, but sympathetic, report of our colleagues on the Select Committee on the problems faced by coloured school leavers. I believe that their work will be of great benefit to all working in this sphere. The Select Committee will cer- tainly continue in being. I hope that it will continue in this helpful atmosphere the constructive and expert dialogue that characterised its approach last year, and the Government will shortly lay before the House our considered comments on the Select Committee's most recent report.
I should now say a word about crime. I have been concerned about the growth of crime and violence—especially violent crime. There has been a continuing increase. There has been a consistent upward trend, with one or two dips, in the number of indictable offences since 1955. In some years the increase was greater and in others less. In 1968 there was an increase in crime of about 7 per cent. In the first six months of this year—I give the figures to the House now—there is no sign of any let up because there is an increase of 9 per cent. over the first half of 1968.
This must be seen against the trends throughout the world. There is a background of a world pattern of increased crime. All experience shows how crime comes irrationally and unpredictably in waves. The increases that we are suffering are to be found in many of the industrial countries of the world to a greater or lesser extent. In some cases, particularly in the United States, it is found to a much greater extent, I regret to say, than in this country.
We also have to keep an eye on the factors which invalidate simple statistical comparisons. There are a number of those. But, when all the qualifications have been made, I regard the situation as serious. We are taking, and will continue to take, all possible steps to combat it.
Our first line of defence is the police. It has been and must remain so. Over a period of years the police force has been strengthened in manpower and equipment in a way which would have seemed revolutionary ten years ago. The change took place following the Royal Commission in 1960, and it has gone on.
Perhaps I may give two figures. I do not give them for any party reason. At the end of 1964 the total police strength was a little over 80,000. At the end of August this year the strength was 91,000. So there has been a continuing and substantial increase in the numbers of police available.
There are vacancies in the police forces now. Recruits are not coming forward as fast as I should like. Indeed, we need an estimated 5,000 recruits in England and Wales in the rest of this financial year up to next April if we are to get the figures we would like to see. There are hundreds of vacancies for candidates of the right type. In August I asked that the advertising campaign, which is run jointly by local authorities and the Government, should be stepped up, and it has been stepped up. As a result, the number of inquiries for joining the police has substantially increased and so has the number of applicants coming forward. But there are not enough yet. I hope that anyone who is able to influence this matter will advise those concerned that there are many vacancies to be filled and that there will be many more next year.
The attraction of a police career depends not only on the nature of the job but on pay and conditions. It is not just the maximum pay of about £1,035 a year for a constable with one year's service but also the allowances that are paid which should be taken into account. The constable's maximum rent allowance in the Metropolitan Police is £7 18s. a week—over £400 a year, tax-free. So, on top of the remuneration, there is an important additional qualification that should be taken into account. I hope that this will encourage young men to come forward.
I mentioned earlier the world pattern of increased crime against which ours has to be set. I do not think that we have explored sufficiently the possibilities of discussion and co-operation on these matters with other countries. I have had an overhaul made of our own research work. I do not think that research will tell us everything about the problem, but if there is some information and conclusions that research workers can give us we should have them.
Whilst I have been Home Secretary I have met a number of my equivalents in other countries, and I now want to see whether something can be done by way of systematising the discussions on the sort of crime questions which a Home Secretary has to handle—the handling of crime, the social questions to which it gives rise and from which it springs. I had experience of this systematic discussion when I was a Finance Minister, as did the right hon. Member for Altrincham and Sale and my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer. I believe that a great deal of useful work could be done in this direction, and so I want to set this on foot, if possible.
Meanwhile, the House should be aware that we are spending a considerable amount on research in the criminological field by assisting university research and other outside institutions. I am anxious that the treatment of offenders should be effective, although not harsh. Security measures will be maintained. Of course, certain determined prisoners will not like these security measures. They want to escape, they want to cock a snook at authority and make life as difficult as possible for those set in authority over them. They also want to ensure that the measures designed to prevent escapes are evaded if possible. This is true of a number of prisoners at the present time, and it is no use the House evading the issue.
I reviewed one problem that has caused trouble, and that is the provision of photographs by dependants and relatives visiting prisoners. I am sorry to say that I cannot give up this proposal. It is essentially a security precaution. We did a test check recently at one prison, and out of 62 visitors that a group of prisoners had 47 were known criminals. It is a matter of great regret that innocent wives and dependants should have to suffer, but this is the only way in which we can ensure that proper security is maintained. I do not think that it is too much of a hardship. I have seen the letters written to the wives concerned asking them if they would be good enough to send a photograph of themselves, because it is not always the same prison officer on duty who can identify them easily. I have to stick to that, despite the criticisms that have been made.
One chink of light in a serious picture is the success that we have had under the parole system. In the first 18 months of the operation of the system I accepted the recommendation of the Parole Board to release 2,500 prisoners on licence. Of that number, only 91 have had to be recalled during this period. This is an encouraging picture. It reflects great credit on the board's selection procedures, and on the care that it has taken. It also reflects great credit on the probation and after-care services which have taken on the supervision of paroled prisoners. This has been a very important addition to their work, and I regard this as a sign that the way out of our problem is not backwards but forwards. We must be firm. I intend to maintain a firm disciplne with those who are committed to prison under my care. It shall be just, and it must be effective as far as we can make it so, and we shall continue to build up the police forces as far as possible so that detection shall be the best deterrent.
Will the Home Secretary consider making more money available for the payment of informers? Most detected came results from information which has to be paid for, and from what one can discover it seems that not sufficient money is made available to the police to enable them to pay these informers.
I have not considered that. I am grateful to the hon. and learned Member for his suggestion. I shall take it into account, without making any commitment on it now.
I return, now, to one or two points made by the right hon. Member for Altrincham and Sale as well as by the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition. Yesterday the right hon. Gentleman seemed awfully sensitive about the value-added tax. Having had the albatross put round his neck by the right hon. Member for Enfield, West (Mr. lain Macleod), the righthon. Gentleman seems anxious to unload it on to my right hon. Friend. I understand the right hon. Gentleman's sensitivity. I have no doubt that it will result in the Opposition putting forward even fewer proposals than they have done so far before they come to the election. The right hon. Gentleman also seemed sensitive about the Tory food policy, and I am not surprised at that, either.
The right hon. Member for Altrincham and Sale made some comments on the cost of living. He said that this was the biggest single issue, and he referred to the standard of living on the Continent. When he was challenged, he said that it was not easy to provide convincing evidence. I should like to give the right hon. Gentleman some evidence which I hope he will accept from me. I have here a schedule of food prices in Europe and the U.S.A. This is very important in deciding what our standard of life is and what the cost of living is. I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman will rejoice with me. [Interruption.] It was the right hon. Gentleman, not I, who raised the question of food prices in Continental countries. He said that it was not easy to provide convincing evidence. I have it here, and perhaps after hearing it the right hon. Gentleman will make a different speech when he goes to his by-election meeting tonight.
Let me give the House the figures for some of the basic elements. According to these figures, which have been given to me by the Minister of Agriculture, the cost of beef per lb. in the United Kingdom is 8s. 6d. In the United States it is 10s. 10d. ; in Switzerland 12s. 5d. ; in Denmark 9s. 6d. ; in the Netherlands 10s. 10d. ; in Italy 12s. ; and in Belgium 14s. 10d. No housewife in the United States or in the major countries of Europe pays less per lb. of beef than the British housewife does.
The same is true of pork. The figures are not quite so startling or dramatic in difference, but the British housewife who pays 6s. 2d. a lb. for pork pays less than the housewife in nearly every country in this long list. The same is true for cheese and for butter. The British housewife pays less for eggs than anybody else. The housewife's loaf of bread is cheaper in the United Kingdom than in any of the other major countries. Apart from the housewife in the United States, the British housewife pays less for sugar than the housewife in any country in Europe, inside or outside the Common Market. I do not know why oranges should be included in this list, but the fact is that the British housewife pays less for oranges than is paid by a housewife in any other part of the world, including the United States.
If the right hon. Gentleman wants to talk about the cost of living, I shall be delighted to give him a copy of this schedule. I hope that he will take it with him to his meeting, and that he will promise to read out all these figures. The housewives will then see that his peroration does not match the facts.
What I shall read out is the passage which I read to the House from the Foreign Secretary's speech, and I hope that the Prime Minister as well as his colleagues who are here agree with this. The right hon. Gentleman said that the expectation was that the standard of living in Germany, France, and Belgium was likely to rise faster in the future than the standard of living of the British people, and that is what counts.
I can only assume that my right hon. Friend had a particularly gloomy moment when he thought that there might be the possible misadventure of the return of a Tory Government, in which case I agree that that would be true.
As regards the right hon. Gentleman's figures for the cost of food, it is quite clear that the British housewife, although she may feel that prices are going up against her—and prices are going up throughout the world—is still getting her food more cheaply than it is obtained in any other major country. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will tell them that, because I know that he wants to put the position fairly. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will also tell them that if the Conservatives go over to the policy expounded by their agricultural spokesman, which will mean changing the system of support from a taxpayer's subsidy to a levy on imported food, this, too, will put up the cost of food to the housewife. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will put that to them quite clearly. If he does, he will not get votes from the housewives, or from the farmers.
I hope that my right hon. Friend will direct himself to the agricultural policies of the Common Market, because if Britain can do this under her present system it clearly seems that the agricultural policies of those countries need very careful study indeed. [Interruption.] Certainly they do. I take it that the right hon. Gentleman does not want to go back on what he said before.
I thought that even the right hon. Gentleman knew that the common agricultural policy was in complete disarray in the Common Market countries at the present time, and that they have had to give special dispensation to German farmers to try to make it coherent in any way. I should have thought that the right hon. Gentleman would want to ensure that the Common Market countries adopted an agricultural policy which would ensure us the benefit of cheap food, and would not go on trying to take a party advantage, because he has committed himself to it.
I will tell the hon. Member about the farmers now, but not in my words—in the words of the President of the National Farmers Union, who said that if the people concerned—that is, the hon. Members's leaders—insisted on their levy policy they could hope for very little support from the farming the industry at the next election. The farmers quite rightly regard the Conservative proposals as a method of ratting on their obligations under the Agriculture Acts.
I want to conclude by referring the right hon. Gentleman to a former speech of his, in which he said.
Let us say loud and clear"—
I am doing him the honour of quoting his words, because I find them very good—
that we Conservations glean nothing but satisfaction from the thought of the ordinary family wanting and getting a car, washing machine, a fridge or the other trapping of life which, in the days of Socialism, were way beyond the means of most people.
He wants to say it loud and clear. I shall give him the opportunity of saving it again. He made that speech in the election campaign in 1964. I want to repeat some facts, loudly and clearly, about what has happened in the period of the Labour Government.
Let us take motor cars first. There are 2·4 million people who now own motor cars and who did not own them when the right hon. Gentleman was Minister of Health. I want only to take the right hon. Gentleman's comparisons. There are 2·6 million people who own television sets who did not own them when the right hon. Gentleman was in the last Administration. The number of new domestic refrigerators has increased from 800,000 to 880,000—[Interruption..] That is a substantial increase. This is the increase every year. Does the right hon. Gentleman want to detract from the motor car industry? Does he think that 2·4 million is an insignificant number, or that the number of television sets is insignificant? Let me offer him another figure. What about housing and home ownership? Is not that important?
I will come to Harrow in a moment. Let us take housing, on which the Tory Party base so much of their propaganda. I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman will be delighted to cheer when I tell him that 1 million more people have taken up home ownership than when he was in the last Administration. Is not that splendid? Where are the cheers? There are no cheers from the party opposite. Why not? Is it because they cannot bear to see this sort of increase when they are in opposition and we are in power? Is it significant only when they are in power and we are in opposition?
Let us neglect the percentages and statistics that the right hon. Gentleman quoted and look at the material considerations by which he asked us to judge. The people are better off in respect of houses, motor cars and all those tangible symbols to which he pays so much attention. [Interruption.] He says that he would hope so. That has not been the burden of his speeches so far. The burden of his speeches has been that our people are worse off and not better off. Let him give the people these figures when he goes to speak at the by-election tonight.
The right hon. Gentleman said that he wanted more spent on health and welfare.
He was spending £1,000 million when he was in office. The figure for this year is £1,700 million. I am sure that he will give that figure to the electors and rejoice in the Labour Government's success. He took pride in the rising cost of the hospital building programme. He said that in 13 years his party had increased it from £9 million to £56 million—an increase of £47 million in 13 years. He boasted about this in his speeches in the 1964 General Election. My right hon. Friend can boast of a far better figure, because the figures for 1969-70 will show an increase of £50 million over six years instead of £47 million in 13 years. I hope that the right hon Gentleman will tell his by-election supporters that.
He can conclude my saying, "Vote Tory and keep the 11-plus examination ", because that is the great difference on which his party is fighting. He can also take with him his hon. Friend the Member for Harrow, West (Mr. John Page) and ask him to explain why the Harrow Council proposes to build no new houses next year when there is such a need for housing. He can explain why the Conservative council has failed to put a programme to the Minister. I hope that he will be able to explain that to the electors in Harrow as well as to the electors of the United Kingdom as a whole.
Before the right hon. Gentleman replies, perhaps he will add to the rôle of dishonour the boroughs of Brent, Ealing. Greenwich, Hackney, and Waltham Forest, and the Greater London Council, none of which proposes to put forward a house building programme although it has the land and the subsidies.
Perhaps the right hon. Gentleman will clear up a point about the figures that he originally gave. Was he speaking of an annual increase of 2·5 million car owners? [Interruption.] Let us get the record straight. As for housing the Harrow Council is concentrating on building for and accommodating the old and the needy in its housing programme. Those are the ones that it feels should be given the greatest attention. That is a record of which it is proud. The right hon. Gentleman had better wait for his right hon. Friend to get an answer from Harrow.
I am sure that my right hon. Friend will wait for the answer from Harrow. It had better be a good one, because there is no excuse for its falling down on the job, together with the other councils to which I have referred. It is under an obligation to the people of London. Why should we believe their promises about what they will do if they get back into office? We can see their record in housing. We have had Conservative councils for two years and we can see the way in which the public housing programme is tailing off. We can see the long list of authorities which are not proposing to build any houses. Do not let us bother with their promises ; let us look at their record.
I want to put one more question to the right hon. Gentleman. I listened very carefully to what he said yesterday about overseas aid. He said that we had not matched up to our promises on this, and he rather exploited the situation. The right hon. Member for Altrincham and Sale referred to it this afternoon. Neither of them gave an answer to this question : do they think that overseas aid should be increased?
The first point that the Home Secretary has to explain is why, on 14th September, the Prime Minister stated that there had been no cuts in overseas aid when there has been a cut in sterling and a cut of 54 million in dollars. The proportion of the gross national product devoted to overseas aid under the Labour Government has continuously declined. That is the point that he must argue. All those facts are true. I committed this country at Geneva in 1964, under U.N.C.T.A.D., to maintain governmental and private aid at 1 per cent. of the gross national product. My view is that that obligation should be maintained.
That is a pretty clear answer. I thank the right hon. Gentleman for it. He has said that in his view the amount of overseas aid donated by this country should be increased each year. It is important that there should not be any party difference on this point. If he has committed himself to maintaining the level of 1 per cent. there need not be any party difference, because we would like to see the amount of aid increased. I hope that it will be made clear at the by-elections that there is no contest in the form of squalid manoeuvres to try to write down the amount of overseas aid and pretend that some people do not want to give it. The Leader of the Opposition has been clear, frank and honest about it, and I am grateful to him.
The right hon. Gentleman's insults to my right hon. Friend are beneath notice and beyond contempt.[HON. MEMBERS : "Answer."] The Prime Minister's statement on this matter was absolutely accurate. If the Leader of the Opposition wants to check it, he can do so before the end of the debate next Tuesday. I have followed these figures. I think it true to say that neither the Government of the right hon. Gentleman nor ours have managed to achieve 1 per cent. I do not know why he wants to make such a point about it I n relation to the Prime Minister, except that he cannot get the Prime Minister out of his consciousness. I am sure my right hon. Friend haunts him in his dreams every night because of the number of times he refers to him.
I do not see my right hon. Friend the Member for East Ham, North (Mr. Prentice) present, but his single act of resignation did more for his case than 50 speeches could have done, and I admire him for it. The simple truth is that both parties are committed to raising the level of overseas aid. I leave it at that.
The picture I have put before the House of the Government's programme is a balanced picture of social justice and social compassion based on solid economic progress. We can be as proud of the Government's record as of its programme for the future. I am also proud and pleased to see the growing spirit of idealism among the ordinary people of the country. This has seemed a little stunted in recent years, but it appears to be coming back. It is now putting out new shoots. Overseas aid, for example, may not be the most emotive subject for the elector, but it is vitally important that the parties should educate those who do not follow these matters in the significance of them. I look forward to the right hon. Gentleman's help.
We can rejoice in the progress which has been made. We put forward this programme with pride. We have demonstrated that the Labour movement combines ideals and practical common sense and the Government and the country can face the future with confidence whenever my right hon. Friend decides to go to the country for an election.
The Home Secretary proceeded to write much of a suggested speech for the right hon. Member for Altrincham and Sale (Mr. Barber) to make in Newcastle tonight. I must confess that when I heard his speech, with particular reference to Europe, I felt that far from being one of the senior Ministers of this Administration speaking in this debate he was addressing the annual general meeting of the Labour Party in Easington or even Workington.
I do not presume to argue today the points about food prices, because the right hon. Gentleman knows all too well that his Government have applied to join the European Economic Community and they are aware of the agricultural policy which is pursued. They know that the farmers' income is received from the markets and not from subsidies. They know that the cost of living has to be set against reduction of subsidies and growth in the economy. They know the rise of the cost of living in this country, outside Europe, and all the calculations about the cost of living. If within the Community all the portents were as ferocious as he sought to make out, he would not have been able to carry the Leader of the House with him; yet he still sits on the Front Bench as a member of the Administration which applies for membership. Therefore I will not do all the work of the Home Secretary for him but leave it to the converts to put him back on the straight and narrow path.
I turn to one subject in the Gracious Speech on which there is virtually no disagreement in this House and on which I hope we shall continue to show solid agreement, but about which there is deep and widespread concern. I refer to the situation in Northern Ireland. Nothing I say will, I hope, raise the temperature by one degree. That, I believe, was the same intent of the visit by the right hon. Gentleman and by the right hon. and learned Member for St. Marylebone (Mr. Hogg). It was certainly in that spirit that I visited Northern Ireland last weekend and made a fairly extensive tour. I join with the right hon. and learned Gentleman—this is one of the issues where the support of the opposition parties is as important as support by Government back benchers—in supporting the package of proposals which the Home Secretary and the Northern Ireland Government have agreed upon.
But this House remains ultimately responsible for the good order of the Province and, with United Kingdom troops committed to prevent the possibility of civil war a civil war which, if it broke out, might even produce out side intervention it will be necessary for increased United Kingdom financial assistance and other help. No one can claim, therefore whatever may have been said in the past in this House, that we are not entitled to discuss the affairs of Northern Ireland. I hope, as I have said, that in the few remarks I make I will not raise the temperature, for they are meant to be helpful.
There are many hon. and right hon. Members who have visited Northern Ireland and I have no greater knowledge than have which were thrown, until one sees the damage done in the Falls Road and the Shankill Road areas among Catholics and Protestants alike. One cannot appreciate all this until one sees the look-out posts and the barricades, very reminiscent of Berlin today, and knows about the curfew at night—which I am happy to believe has been partly relaxed—with British troops armed to the teeth, and searchlights casting their light over wide sectors of Belfast to keep the citizens from attacking one another.
To me the pathos of the situation is that those locked in controversy in either section of the community of Northern Ireland, are amongst the poorest members of the community in a material sense, who have to lose only very little to lose everything they possess. The bitterness behind the destruction is something which I fear will last for many years. The Army has my unstinted admiration. It is doing an incredibly difficult job. It will be blamed by one side or the other, or possibly both, for being partisan, but I am quite certain that the men are not concerned whether those who breach the peace are of the Catholic or the Protestant religion. Indeed, anyone who claims loyalty to the Crown should be the last to complain at the deployment of the troops of the Crown in any part of the United Kingdom if that is to preserve law and order.
The circumstances in which the soldiers are discharging their duty inevitably must lead to discomfort when men are sleeping either on the streets or in huts within a few yards of an instant call.
But I hope that we shall hear something about the increased facilities for the troops which the Home Secretary mentioned in his speech the Monday before last. The arrival of H.M.S. "Maidstone" is one improvement in their conditions, and I hope that we may hear something about the off-duty facilities. If necessary, we must accept the fact that we shall need an increased garrison in Northern Ireland for very many years to come. In that context, the Secretary of State for Defence may well want to look again at his previous policies with regard to running down the Territorial Reserve.
The Army is very fortunate in the calibre of General Sir Ian Freeland, its G.O.C. in Northern Ireland, and the R.U.C. in Sir Arthur Young. The morale of the Royal Ulster Constabulary has been under intolerable strain and it has been expected to discharge a paramilitary obligation. I welcome the views of the Hunt Committee, many of which are reforms wanted by the R.U.C. themselves. I hope that we may see a return to the high morale which we all want in any police force.
Next I hope that compensation will be both swift and generous. I was with a family on Friday which had been burned out and they were living in an emergency caravan. They had been given £75 settling-in grant and all they possessed was what they stood in. They had to buy knives and forks and other kitchen utensils. This sort of sum will be quite inadequate for people who have to start a new life. What, for example, will be the position of people who are just about to pay their last mortgage instalment to buy their house when it is now a charred ruin?
These are some of the very real problems which cannot be very large in terms of cash but which will be of tremendous significance in re-settling people. With regard to the reforms—and I welcome the support given to Major Chichester-Clark on Friday—I can only reiterate the view of Lord Cameron in, I think, paragraph 232 that they must be swift, genuine and sincere, because any delay would produce increased bitterness and dispute. One of the most important things in the future in Northern Ireland is to mobilise the moderate majority which I am certain exists. In other parts of this country politics had a sectarian flavour up to the beginning of the first war. I welcome the fact that a man's political persuasion in other parts of the United Kingdom is not now dictated by his religious views.
I look forward to the day when moderates of the Unionist Party, the Nationalist Party and the Labour and Liberal Parties in Northern Ireland will hold sway and will not be subject to the pressures of those who I do not believe are representative of the majority of decent people in Northern Ireland. Frankly, I do not think that that will happen until there is a reintroduction of the voting system set up in Northern Ireland at the time when the Northern Ireland Government was first established —a system which works well in the Republic of Ireland and which has enabled the Protestant minority in Ireland to play a full part in political life.
Before hon. and right hon. Gentlemen, with the innate conservatism which is always attracted to any discussions of electoral reform, dismiss this idea, they would do well to remember the occasions when Labour and Conservative Colonial Secretaries have been anxious to introduce this system, or a variant of it, for colonial territories to ensure that minorities, particularly of a racial or religious nature, are given adequate representation. It is significant that the system of proportional representation has been one of the factors in the Netherlands—where there are acute religious divisions—which has helped to take some of the edge off the bitterness in that country. In Norway, Denmark, Sweden and other countries it has been tried with success. In Sweden it has produced the same government since 1932, which is an indication of some stability, although I would accept that for those whose minds are rooted in 1690 this is probably too recent.
I believe that one of the effects of getting into the European Economic Community will be that Northern and Southern Ireland will find themselves working together within a wider context. I hope that the Home Secretary will have the support of all quarters of this House for what he is trying to do in Northern Ireland, and that he will realise that this package of proposals may not be enough to bring out the moderates and to get a real working of the different communities in Northern Ireland which everyone wants to see.
I want to refer briefly to the Middle East, Nigeria and Vietnam, and to say that our influence can only be effective in the first two. I am not surprised at the enthusiasm of the Right Wing of the Conservative Party for the sale of arms to South Africa, although I believe that Spain is not currently on their agenda. However, many of us have been shocked at the willingness of this Government to supply arms for the civil war in Nigeria. Again it is a very sobering thought that in 1968 and the first three months of 1969 £384 million worth of arms was sold to Arab countries which are in a state of war with a member of the United Nations.
It is very difficult when it is apparently wrong to sell £2½ million worth of Chieftain tanks to Israel to say that it is suddenly right to sell Centurions to Libya. It is difficult to know what is the determining factor on arms control and sale in the mind of the Government. On the 25th anniversary of the United Nations, to which reference was made in the Gracious Speech, I hope that this Government will recognise that one of the most disgraceful episodes in foreign affairs is the way in which the rich nations sell arms to the poor nations, which is almost tantamount to international drug trafficking. I very much hope that some initiative will be taken here.
I want also to refer to what I regard as three grave omissions—there are others —in the Gracious Speech. They are the lack of reference to the reform of the machinery of government in this country, the almost total absence of any mention of housing and the cursory reference to industrial relations. We have been told that steps will be taken to implement the proposals of Maud and Wheatley. I prefer the latter to the former. We should remember that the Maud Report increases the number of co-opted and appointed personnel; it does nothing to remove the pressures on the central government, although in fairness Maud may say that this was outside its terms of reference
In a year in which the Ombudsman has found that the pressure of work on the Inland Revenue is such that 37 per cent. of the cases referred to him were proved to have been the subject of maladministration, and when there are half a million pieces of unanswered paper in the Inland Revenue at the moment, when the Government have to introduce 222 Amendments to their Finance Bill and when, three Budgets after the introduction of S.E.T., we are still awaiting the report of Professor Reddaway as to how it is working out, surely we can see that the pressure of work on Government Departments is intense and that the sooner we devolve power from Whitehall the better it will be for the health of democracy.
The Crowther Report may not be ready for several years. I know what I want to see—a proper federal solution for this country. Even if the Government are not prepared to move that far, surely if they are willing to countenance a Parliament for Northern Ireland they should at least concede that they can trust a measure of devolution to the other people of the United Kingdom? There is nothing about the reform of government, which I would have thought would have been a very good piece of election window-dressing, if nothing more, and some would have hoped that it would go further and give real power to the people.
There is no reference to housing. This is staggering when 3 million people are living in what are virtually slum conditions. [HON. MEMBERS : "There is."]. There is a reference to rents. It is said :
Legislation will be introduced to continue in modified form powers to limit increases in house rents.
If there is another reference to housing or homes I should be grateful if it were pointed out to me ; I do not think that there is. The Government's target of 500,000 houses by 1970 has been abandoned. This was one of the casualties of devaluation. House building is down 30,000 or 40,000 this year on the record 413,000 of last year, and local authority advances are down.
I would have hoped that the present Government, who claim to have a soul, would have put housing as one of the highest social priorities of their programme for the coming year. This is not the occasion to spell out in detail the sort of programme which one would like to see, but personally I should like to see far higher financial priority given to housing. For example, I should like to see 12 public building corporations set up spanning the country and able to act in co-operation with local authorities in order to have a massive building programme taking advantage of all forms of industrialized techniques. I should have liked a voluntary agreement with the private sector for 20 per cent. of its output to go to public authority occupation over the next three years in exchange for tax remissions. I should have liked the Government to have indicated that they were tackling this problem with tremendous resolve.
I naturally welcome, as I hope everybody does, the improvement in our economic position. I hope that it will not be thought churlish to say that one wonders what the position would have been if we had devalued earlier and not as a panic measure but as a properly planned operation, and also what would have happened if we had been in the European Economic Community.
One of the vital aspects of our economic recovery will be industrial relations. If the Government think that they will solve this by invoking Part II in the New Year, they do not have the feeling for industrial relations which they themselves would be the first to claim. I would have hoped that we might have had some fairly radical proposals for real democracy in industry and that we would have tried to raise the status of workers in industry and tried to remove some of the drudgery from industrial life. For example, a far higher legal status could have been given to workers in industry comparable, for example, with that of the shareholder, so that the worker would have had the right by law to elect his directors in the same way that the shareholders have. I would have hoped for a far greater emphasis on the need for plant bargaining and an attack on industrial relations in very much the same way as in certain European countries, particularly West Germany, where the worker has a far greater and better status than the worker in industry here.
I welcome the references to equal pay, but I hope that equal pay will mean that we will work towards equal opportunity, because there is some suggestion that when employers are faced with the necessity for equal pay they will not employ women.
I welcome the Government's firm stand on Rhodesia. Although there is much that could and should be done to make sanctions more effective, I for one do not choose to support a rebellion which cuts at the whole prospect of creating a multiracial world. That is why those who generally attack the Government on Rhodesia and criticise their policies and who wish to see Mr. Smith recognised are playing with a very dangerous international political situation.
I am delighted to see that my old enemy the Egg Board is to be wound up. If I may warn the Government, as one who has battled with the Board for the last seven years, may I say that it will take an unconscionable time in dying and that many of the existing personnel will try to get on the board of the new Marketing Commission, or whatever form it takes, when it is set up. My advice is that, with one or two honourable exceptions, none of those who have served in the past should have anything to do with eggs in future.
There is no doubt that in the past few weeks and months there has been a swing to the Right, particularly in the ranks of the Opposition. I hope that the Government will try to put a firm radical stamp on the government of this country. I cannot say that they will exactly do that when they drag in their supporters to vote against the Boundary Commission Reports which they themselves will put forward. This will be another way in which the Home Secretary will say, "I am in breach of the law, but if you will do this it will get me off the hook." [HON.MEMBERS: "No."] Indeed—if it had not been for the decision of the High Court. I remember challenging the Home Secretary to refer the validity of what he was doing to the Privy Council for an opinion. No Government should have to go through the farce of solemnly introducing Measures and then asking their supporters to vote them down.
We shall judge the Government not by whether they receive the plaudits of the Monday Club and the Powell-ites and whatever the official view of the Opposition may be, but whether they are helping to create a more radical Britain, a more humane society. In so far as they set out to do that, they will have our support; in so far as they do the reverse, and in certain ways in this Speech they do, they will have our opposition.
The right hon. Member for Devon, North (Mr. Thorpe), Leader of the Liberal Party, has made a comprehensive review of the Gracious Speech and he will appreciate that I cannot comment on all that he has said. I share his concern about the situation in Northern Ireland, but not his enthusiasm for the Common Market, particularly for its agricultural policies.
The Gracious Speech contains a comprehensive list of items which will occupy Members busily in the months ahead. I welcome the Government's proposals to reorganise the docks, although I regret that the reference omits the term "public ownership". Some of us are not as disenchanted with that principle as some members of the Government may be. One appreciates that the proposals in the White Paper have been watered down compared with those published by the National Executive of the Labour Party some time ago. Those of us who are fortunate enough to be on the Standing Committee when the Bill goes to Committee will try to strengthen these proposals.
I welcome the reference to the proposals for assistance to intermediate areas. Assistance is needed for the older firms in these areas so that they may purchase the new machinery which they need to modernise their plants. Secondly, consideration should be given to granting Government contracts to these firms because many workpeople from the development areas are employed in the intermediate areas.
I wish today to refer mainly to the confused state of affairs surrounding the reorganisation of local government, and I am particularly concerned about Wales. In July, 1967, a White Paper was published on the subject which contained what I thought were some practicable proposals. A complication arose at the time, however, because separate Royal Commissions were sitting to consider local government reorganisation in Scotland and England.
But the White Paper specifically stated that there was no need for a Royal Commission in Wales; first, because the need for reorganisation there was urgent due to the large number of local authorities lacking the resources to carry out their proper functions, and, secondly, because the reorganisation of local government in Wales was well advanced before the Royal Commission in England had been established. I felt, therefore, that we had practical proposals before us, but little progress seems to have been made to implement them.
Several contradictory statements have been made by Ministers on the subject. For example, we were told that the Welsh Office could go ahead with the proposals. But in the next breath we were told that we had to await the Maud recommendations on local government in England. I could not follow that reasoning, and I said so at the time. Reforming local government needs great courage, but in this instance it seems to be lacking.
Despite a reference in the Gracious Speech to proposals for reorganising local government, with England, Scotland and Wales being mentioned, a bombshell was thrown yesterday afternoon when my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister announced that, due to the Royal Commission in England, there was now to be fresh thinking for the counties of Glamorgan and Monmouthshire. Why should this special treatment be given to these two counties?
I believe that this course will create unnecessary divisions in Wales. I regret that it has not been decided to go ahead with the original proposals in the Welsh White Paper, which were eminently practicable. I say this because they would have considerably reduced the number of local authorities in Wales and would have had the effect of creating sound economic units while retaining local identities and affiliations.
Instead, the Welsh Office seems to have been pressurised—perhaps by the new overlord who has just been appointed—and is having to submit to the Maud proposals for two of the most highly populated counties in Wales. My forecast is that there will be endless delay over the Maud recommendations and their implementation. Meanwhile, many local authorities, and particularly those in Wales, will find it increasingly difficult to carry out their functions.
lf, eventually, Maud-type proposals are implemented, we will have the creation of huge monolithic units in which democratic participation will give way to bureaucratic stranglehold. It will be the end of local government as we know it today. If that is what England wants it can have it, but we in South Wales certainly do not want it and any proposals along these lines must be resisted at all costs.
I am sure that the hon. Member for Newport (Mr. Roy Hughes) will forgive me if I do not comment on all the subjects he raised, although I must remark on two of them He applauded the decision of the Government to introduce public ownership of the ports. These proposals must be seen to be completely irrelevant to the problems which face Britain today. They merely serve to illustrate the poverty of thought in the present Administration. It is shocking that years after nationalisation was first tried and failed conferences of the Labour Party should be constantly calling on the Labour Administration to go further with this ill-fated experiment.
However, I support the hon. Gentleman when he refers to the Government's decision to introduce some help for the intermediate areas. Nevertheless, the help which they propose to give can be summed up by saying that their proposals are better than a thick ear, although there is no need to get starry eyed over them.
In North East Lancashire, for example, the Government propose to offer rather less help than the Hunt Committee suggested should be given to Lancashire as a whole. Thus, while we in my part of the world are prepared not to look a gift horse in the mouth and to accept these meagre blessings from the Government, we are not prepared to applaud and accept them as all that is necessary to meet the real difficulties which we in the problem areas face.
The Home Secretary described the Gracious Speech as a product of a positive philosophy. I was tempted to comment that if it represents the product of a positive philosophy, thank goodness I am of a fairly negative disposition, because I have found the Gracious Speech unutterably depressing. It is apparent that the Government have no intention whatsoever of tackling four of the major problems facing the country. There is, first, the crippling burden of taxation which, since the return of Labour, has year by year been increasingly placed on the shoulders of the people; secondly, there is the bloated bureaucracy; thirdly, there is the catastrophic increase in the cost of living: and, fourthly, there is the increase in unofficial strikes.
On the fourth item, I thought that the Home Secretary's remarks today about the dustmen's strike in Manchester were thoroughly irresponsible. He seemed to think it was a matter of no account that there should be yet another unofficial strike in the land. He may have thought it a matter of no account that the people of London were gravely inconvenienced yesterday because of an unofficial strike.
However, many people in England would not agree with his cavalier approach to this grave problem. Indeed, the vast majority of people, while understanding many of the grievances which have motivated these unofficial strikes, are saying, "Why should small sections of the community hold the whole nation to ransom?" That is the way the question was put to me when I was travelling to the House in a taxi earlier.
One is also bound, if one is of a sceptical disposition, to ask what relevance the Gracious Speech now has. In my innocence, when I heard last year's Address, I thought that it would mark the course of the Session which was to follow. I thought, in my innocence, that the speech was a fair indication of how we would spend our time in the coming six, seven, eight or nine months. I soon learned how wrong I was.
The keynote of the speech last October was reform of the House of Lords. We spent day after day debating that issue. Then one day the Prime Minister said, "I am sorry, lads, we are giving that one up. We have another one up our sleeves. We are going to reform the unions." We had heard nothing about that in the Queen's Speech. For a few weeks we had a most earnest debate about that proposal. Then another Minister came to the House and said, "We have changed our mind again. We have something more important to do. We are going to gerrymander the constituencies to ensure, as far as it is possible to do, the return of a labour Government at the next election".
If he hon. Gentleman wants to intervene he can stand up and do so. First of all, House of Lords reform was abandoned. Then we had the promise of trade union reform. That was abandoned. Eventually we had the Bill by which the Home Secretary hoped to persuade this House and another to throw aside the Report of an independent Commission set up to investigate Parliamentary boundaries and to ensure that they were fair and properly reflected political opinion.
I mentioned what I though were some of the key issues which were not tackled in this Gracious Speech. I first mentioned taxation. Some hon. Members opposite may say that this is a matter of no account. I do not think that many Members who have asked the ordinary man in the street what he feels about the increase in taxation since 1964 have had the reply, "This is a matter of no account. It is something that I can easily bear".
What is the record? There has been a £3,000 million increase in taxation since this Administration took office, after its leader had had the temerity to tell the people during the election campaign, "There will be no general increase in taxation in the lifetime of a Parliament".
Have the Government no intention of all of tackling the problem of Government spending? We see no evidence of it in the Gracious Speech. Have the Government no intention of bringing about a reform of the taxation system? We see no evidence of it in the Gracious Speech. Have the Government no intention of seeing whether it is possible to bring about some more selectivity in the social services so as to ensure that taxpayers' money really goes to where it is really needed? Have the Government no intention of investigating ways of eliminating the payment of public moneys to those who are perfectly capable of looking after themselves? We see no evidence of it in the Gracious Speech.
Have the Government no intention at dealing with the present bloated bureaucracy? This was the second point which I mentioned when I was referring to the problems which were completely ignored in the Gracious Speech. I understand that there are 70,000 more civil servants than there were in 1964. We are often told by Government spokesmen that all these people are doing very useful work and that many people have been recruited to ensure that the work of the Supplementary Benefits Commission can be carried out in a proper and humane fashion. But this growth in the number of civil servants has also been due to the introduction of, for instance, selective employment tax, which I understand has led to the recruitment of about 1,000 more civil servants. It is due to the introduction of new taxes like the capital gains tax and corporation tax. It is due to the recruitment of about 160 public relations officers. It is a reflection on the Government that in order to convince the people that they are doing any good they must employ no fewer than 160 mare public relations officers than the Conservative Administration employed. One wonders who they are trying to fool.
We have quasi-governmental organisations like the Commission for Industrial Relations, all at great cost to the taxpayer. We have the Land Commission. It would take a great deal to convince me that it is necessary to set up a vast bureaucratic organisation like the Land Commission to tax the increased value of land following upon granting of planning permission.
I resent the complacent way in which the Government view and approach this increase in the bureaucracy. I was in the House in February when the Prime Minister announced that, although after devaluation he had tried to halt the rise in the number of civil servants, it had become necessary to go back to extensive recruitment and he had regretfully to tell us that in 1969 about 8,700 more civil servants were to be recruited. We were treated to a story about all these 8,700 new recruits doing very worth-while work. At one moment the Prime Minister seemed even to be trying to convince us that they would all be probation officers. But what do we find when we examine the figures? Of that 8,700 recruits no fewer than 2,380 were recruited to the Inland Revenue as a direct result of changes in taxation policy which have taken place since the Labour Party came to power.
I am one of those who believe that the Government itself is far too large. Unless Governments of whatever political complexion, are prepared to tackle this problem and to say, "We have gone far enough and we must take off the backs of the people some of the crippling burdens of supporting too much government", we shall not get on our feet again. The figures of the cost of living do not need repeating. They are there for all to see. There has been a rise of 23 per cent. in the cost of living since the Labour Party came to office—double the rate of the rise in the cost of living during the years of Tory rule. The Prime Minister told us—I cannot remember whether it was during the 1964 or 1966 election campaign; what matters is that he said these things—that the rise in the cost of living can, must and will be halted.
There is an ominous silence in the Gracious Speech on many of the worst threats which recently have been emanating from the Left wing of the Labour Party. There is an ominous silence, for instance, about the wealth tax, of which we have heard much during the last few months. Are proposals like that made merely to put new heart in the Labour left, or are they a serious threat to the well-being of the country? I should like to know, and the country would like to know, whether this Gracious Speech is the run-up to a General Election and whether it is supposed to be the goods in the shop window for the edification and delight of the electors.
When we come to economic policy, we find nothing but platitudes. We hope that we shall now be able to pay our way in the world. But I believe that in the long run there will be no increase in the prosperity of this country or in the living standards of the people unless the Government allow real reward to be given for real effort. We shall not be able to provide a better life for the unfortunate people in our community unless there is a new spirit abroad and unless the Government make it perfectly plain to people that real effort will be rewarded, that thrift will be applauded rather than denigrated, and that real effort will result in a better standard of living for people who are prepared to make it.
I feel unutterably depressed, because we need a new spirit in this country, not just new policies, and there is no indication of fresh thinking in this Gracious Speech. Far from fresh thinking, what we find is hoary old chestnuts like the nationalisation of the docks. I hope that it will not be long before there is a new administration in power which will deal with the real problems which face the people today.
I can understand the dilemma of the Opposition and, in particular, that of the hon. Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. Waddington) at the contents of the Gracious Speech. As patriots, they must applaud the nation's visible economic progress under a Labour Government, but as Tories, with both eyes on their electoral prospects, they find it—to adopt tha hon. Gentleman's phrase—unutterly depressing that the country is now going into a period of prosperity.
I was dismayed today to hear the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Altrincham and Sale (Mr. Barber) cast doubt on the credibility not only of Ministers but of the Treasury itself. I was dismayed because it was not simply an attack on a Government Department or a doubt about statistics. The effect of such an attack by a responsible person like the right hon. Gentleman is to damage British credit abroad. In challenging the figures which have been put forward by the Treasury and Treasury Ministers, not only has the right hon. Gentleman assailed the credit of Ministers but he has acted in such a way that his words may well undermine the credit of Britain abroad. I look forward to the Chancellor's reply next week when, once again, I am sure, he will affirm the validity of the figures which he has already given. I hope that, when he does so, the right hon. Gentleman will have the good grace to withdraw what he said today.
The right hon. Member for Altrincham and Sale gave a sort of catalogue of what Socialism is all about, and once again he repeated the old clichés—the hon. Member for Nelson and Colne retailed some of them, too—about Socialism being a doctrine of greed, of lethargy, of collectivism, and so on. In fact, as is manifest in the Gracious Speech, Socialism is concerned with the quality of life. I greatly welcome the Gracious Speech in that it not only points to economic progress and to economic measures which will give encouragement to all who wish this country well, but it puts a proper emphasis on improving the quality of our society.
It is significant that the theme of the quality of life, which at one time seemed a marginal interest of cranks in various countries, has suddenly moved to the centre of the political scene, and that not only in this country. The President of the United States has made the theme of improving the quality of life central to the whole doctrine of the American Administration. Even in N.A.T.O.—and no one could accuse N.A.T.O. of being anything but a realistic organisation—an important sub-committee has been set up, under President Nixon's inspiration, precisely to concern itself with environmental factors and the quality of the world in which we live and move. In short, it is a sub-committee designed to concern itself with the way we live, quite apart from measures of defence.
I particularly welcome, therefore, that the Gracious Speech concerns itself not simply with the quantity of our society but with its nature as well. Although I thought the Home Secretary's speech superb, however, I felt that he was a little cavalier in the aside in which he referred to the Manchester dustmen. What we have observed lately has been, so to sneak, a revolt of the "lower depths". All of a sudden, those who are concerned with our environment, those who do the marginal and sometimes unjustly despised jobs, have begun to assert themselves. Many who took the dustman's chores for granted have seen how the amenities of life can change in their absence. What seemed so humdrum and everyday suddenly disappeared, and, as a consequence, we are beginning to make a reassessment not simply of function but also of the social status of those who serve society.
In speaking of the quality of society, I must refer also to the general youth protest which is taking place all over the Western world. The youth protest has been in great measure directed against the degeneration of the quality of our society, against the ugliness and squalor which has been tolerated at the very time when the producer society sees no technical bounds to its expansion. Those who speak of "dropping out" are precisely those, in some cases, who are among the best of young people; they are those who can identify what is unacceptable in society, who are in revolt against a society of mass production in which everything is prefabricated, irrespective of its quality. The Home Secretary referred to the drug danger. Once again, something which has seemed peripheral has come to the centre of our thinking. A week or two ago, I was in New York. I heard Mr. John Lindsay, the mayoral candidate, talking of some of the public works schemes which he had initiated in that city, and I was staggered to hear that there were 5,000 heroin addicts who have been engaged in work on rehabilitation projects. If there are 5,000 addicts who have been assembled to engage in such rehabilitation projects, one can infer that the number of heroin addicts in New York must be vastly greater, probably about 20,000 to 30,000.
The drug problem in the United States is like a plague. It spreads because the taking of drugs is a group activity; there is almost literally an infection by which those who are already addicted pass on their addiction to neighbours and friends. In New York, the use of cannabis has become a serious problem, and the movement from cannabis, marijuana, "pot"—whatever one calls it—to harder drugs such as heroin has taken place to such an extent that it presents a central social problem.
The Home Secretary asked what was the reason for the sudden upsurge in the statistics of crime. No one can give an exact answer or a detailed breakdown of the social motives, but of one factor we can be sure: the spread of drug addiction makes an important contribution to the spread of violent crime. The reason is not that the effect of drug addiction is to create a euphoria which leads to crime. It is that those who seek to purchase drugs—and drugs are relatively expensive in any society—turn to any means, including violent crime, in order to obtain them.
Anyone who has the boldness to walk down an American street at night will know that the advice of his American friends is not to do it again, because there are marauders who go about to attack strangers to "mug" them, as it is called—not out of frivolity but in order to obtain cash with which to buy marijuana. In other words, addiction leads to desperation. That is the reason for so much of the violent crime in the streets of the United States.
I was glad to hear the Home Secretary say that he intends to introduce legislation not only to consolidate the drug Acts but to ensure that it is the pushers of drugs rather than the consumers on whom the weight of the law will fall most heavily. After all, it is quite useless to imprison and penalise people who are the victims, who are already the sufferers, in a spreading tragedy when those who are promoting this social catastrophe are abroad, are able to move about freely, and cannot be discouraged by the existing penalties. So I hope that, as in the United States and the new intention of American law, the penalties included in the Home Secretary's new legislation will be such as to give a sufficient deterrent penalty to those who engage in committing the act of pushing drugs and corrupting the young.
Would the hon. Gentleman not agree that quite often it is the addicts who themselves are pushing drugs to other addicts and that probably the criminal law is not the right answer to deal with them?
Yes, I quite agree there is a very narrow line to draw between those who are simply consumers and those addicts who are both consumers and salesmen of drugs. It is a very difficult line to draw, but I think it should not be beyond the ability of the law to make the distinction between those who are actually engaged in procuring and then selling drugs and those merely procuring drugs for personal consumption.
The hon. Gentleman talks of an adequate penalty for pushing, and I suppose that the House would agree with that, but is he really not aware that the penalty, so far as I know, for pushing at the moment is 10 years? What, in addition to that, does he suggest?
If in fact it is the case that the penalty is 10 years, then I would hope that the courts would be sensible and apply the penalty, because as far as I know—it is within the knowledge of the right hon. and learned Gentleman and all Members of the House—penalties of that severity have not been applied, and I am sure that the right hon. and learned Gentleman will agree that if a penalty of severe deterrence is not applied, then, after a time, those engaged in that activity will feel themselves immune from it and will consequently continue a practice which is a disservice to humanity.
One thing I want to add to that before I come to another aspect of the Gracious Speech. I believe that the Brain and Wootton Committees did a disservice by minimising the escalating possibilities of marijuana. I hope that not only those who were perhaps misled by those conclusions but—and I think this is, perhaps, more significant—those who are responsible for the glossy magazines and supplements and for certain articles even in the national newspapers which glamourise the use of drugs as such, but drug takers when they are pop idols, who are, after all, the exemplars and monitors of the young, I hope that those who are responsible for the publication of journals of that kind, and the articles they contain, will take their social responsibilities much more seriously and recognise that they, too, have a responsibility in this matter.
I would conclude this section of what I want to say by giving just one illustration of the nature of the problem of drug-taking in a provincial city. In my own constituency, in 1968 there was only one person who was charged with possessing cannabis. At that time it was said by the police that this was merely the tip of the iceberg. This has been proved to be very much the case, because this year, in the first nine months of 1969, there are 17 people who have been brought before the court or who are about to be brought before the court for being in possession of cannabis. I am not suggesting for a moment that the statistics indicate that the use of cannabis has multiplied 17 times, but having spoken to those concerned with the matter this very morning I would certainly say that drug taking, marijuana smoking, is a group activity, and the marijuana smoker is try definition an evangelist of his particular vice, and that there is a very serious trend and something which, I hope, will be discouraged.
Now I turn to the wider aspects of what I may call the pollution of the consumer society. As we become more and more hypnotised by advertising and public relations, it seems that we are all becoming more and more ready to swallow anything poured into our throats by the mass producers at the behest of the mass media, and it is understandable that some of the young people I was talking about before have become more and more ready, perhaps lashed on by Professor Marcuse, to challenge this dictatorship of the producer.
The Medicines Act, brought in last year, was a most valuable recognition of the need for greater control over the drugs and appliances which have become so important a part of our contemporary life, and, it was, indeed, the thalidomide tragedy which has often been debated in this House, which gave the first jolt to our social conscience about the way in which drugs were being produced, sometimes with inadequate clinical testing. Recently, of course, the banning of cyclamates in America, and our anxieties about monosodium glutamates, are indications of a trend, or a sort of rebellion among consumers against the producers.
The Medicines Act has been a very worth-while attempt to concentrate all the various agencies concerned with our protection against noxious drugs and drug abuses, but I wonder at this stage, when my right hon. Friend proposes to consolidate the drug Acts for which he is responsible, whether we should first seek greater rationalisation of our methods of protecting the consumer of food and all the various contaminants and additives.
At the present time, despite the Medicines Act, we have a very confused picture in respect of the control of food, with responsibilities spread over five Ministries, Agriculture, Health and Social Security, the Home Office, and, unlikely indeed, but even the Ministry of Technology. As the House will know, our main legislation on food standards is the Food and Drugs Act, 1955, which aims at protecting the consumer from exploitation and from abuse. Ministers can make regulations under this Act; they have Advisory Committees, the Food Standards Committee, the Food Additives and Contaminants Committee; but the whole procedure, though fair, is complicated and time-consuming.
What I would like to propose today is that perhaps the Government will give consideration to attempting to consolidate the multiplied agencies today responsible for the protection of the public against food pollution, and on the model of the United States Food and Drug Administration, because even today, under our present system, enforcement of the laws concerned with the defence of the consumer is the responsibility of 300 individual local authorities.
I do not want to be alarmist tonight and I want, in proposing that we should use the F.D.A. as our model, to make it clear that there is no need for the public to be alarmed, because of the very valuable protective system which we have, but, just as the Government have restructured certain Ministries, so I would hope that, in this field of protecting the consumer against contaminants and additives, which are invisible and, by that amount, the more dangerous, we will use the F.D.A. as a model and in that way improve the efficiency of our protection.
I would conclude by saying that I believe that the Gracious Speech has added greater strength to the improvement of the quality of our society. The emphasis on quality will become more and more important in the months that lie ahead and, whatever the economic argument between the two parties, ultimately, that party will succeed in capturing the trust and confidence of the public which puts the quality of our society at the head of its intentions.
I am grateful for the opportunity to follow the hon. Member for Coventry, North (Mr. Edelman), as I am so entirely in agreement with the remarks which he made about the danger of drugs. Those of us who spend much of our time practising in the criminal courts cannot doubt for a moment, from the tragic cases which we see from time to time, that the use of soft drugs often leads to the use of hard drugs, which leads to distress and to many dreadful crimes. I agree entirely with what he said about the social menace of drug taking and the need to use all the means in our power to try to eliminate it.
Like my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for St. Marylebone (Mr. Hogg) I doubt whether increasing the maximum penalty for drug trafficking is the answer. Like him, I thought that already the penalty was a substantial number of years' imprisonment. I am convinced that anyone who is trafficking in drugs, whether hard or soft, should he severely dealt with by the criminal courts.
I cannot agree with the opening remarks of the hon. Member for Coventry, North—and I wonder whether he does himself on reflection—when he described the Home Secretary's speech as an excellent speech—
I do not criticise him for not being present. I know that he has other duties to perform, but I have a very different view of the Home Secretary's speech from that of the hon. Gentleman. I thought it was in many ways an extraordinary speech. He started by criticising my right hon. Friend the Member for Altrincham and Sale (Mr. Barber) for not talking about the Queen's Speech in the course of his 50 minutes or so. He himself spoke for just over 60 minutes and hardly mentioned the Queen's Speech. Although he described the Queen's Speech as relevant, the fact that so little discussion has taken place about it, and that the benches opposite have been so empty during the afternoon, could be clear evidence of the irrelevance of a great deal of the Queen's Speech to the problems of the country.
The omissions from the Queen's Speech are more important than what it contains. There is no reference to housing. I find that almost as amazing as the audacity of the Home Secretary in daring to refer to it in his speech. He gave us many figures, but he did not tell us that the house building programme of this Government is rapidly dwindling away, with 34,000 fewer houses being built than during last year. The Home Secretary did not mention the solemn pledge made by the Prime Minister of 500,000 houses to be completed in the next year. Does that solemn pledge—which was not to be affected by any circumstances, however adverse—still stand, or has it gone the way of all his other lightly given promises and been ignored?
There is one mention of housing in the Gracious Speech, and it leaves me in a certain amount of doubt:
A Bill will be laid before you to make better arrangements for the recovery of civil debts and to enable the courts to avoid causing hardship when making orders for possession of mortgaged property.
I do not know what that means, but it seems to mean that now that the interest
rate on mortgages has become 8½ per cent., so many people are finding it impossible to pay their instalments that somehow the Government have to take action to prevent those people from being evicted. This is an extraordinary state of affairs for a party which went into the 1964 General Election talking about mortgages at 3 per cent. and criticising the rate of interest at that time.
I am amazed that the Gracious Speech makes no reference to strikes and unofficial strikes; these have increased enormously. Like the hon. Member for Coventry, North, I was surprised at the jocular way in which the Home Secretary treated the strike of dustmen in Manchester. I come from that city and I am sure that his remarks will cause concern to dustmen and to the residents of that city who are seeing refuse pile up around them. I am sure that the Joint Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Technology, who lives in that area, will have taken much more seriously than the Home Secretary the dustmen's strike.
There is no reference in the Gracious Speech to the tremendous burdens of increased taxation, and the need to provide means of increasing incentive and initiative if we are to expand the wealth of the country to enable us to provide the type of social services which we need.
The hon. Member for Coventry, North said that he was amazed to hear the right hon. Member for Altrincham and Sale challenge the recent trade figures. He said that he thought it was irresponsible to do so because it undermined the credit of Britain abroad. If, as the hon. Member says, the attack on the figures is likely to have this effect I am amazed that the Home Secretary was not prepared to deny it at once rather than leaving it until Monday.
May I recall to the hon. Gentleman that the Home Secretary replied that the allegations made by the right hon. Member for Altrincham and Sale (Mr. Barber) were false. I believe that those were his words.
With respect, he said that any allegation of deception was false. He did not answer the two questions specifically put as to whether the balance for those two months was £66 million or, if properly read, only £20 million. If it is a question of that kind which, according to the hon. Member for Coventry, North, coming from people like the Chairman of the Conservative Party is likely to undermine the credit of Britain abroad, I repeat that I am surprised that the Home Secretary did not feel it right to deal with it immediately in his speech.
My general feeling on the Gracious Speech is that it ignores all the matters on which this Government's record is one of failure. It ignores them because it does not wish the country to remember them, and it is in large measure irrelevant to the issues which are worrying people at the moment.
May I turn quickly to some of the matters which are referred to in the Queen's Speech. I am worried that the Bill to deal with pensions may adversely affect those who are in occupational pension schemes. I hope it does not. I believe that we should be building on those occupational schemes rather than replacing them with a grandiose State scheme for the reason that an occupational scheme is a genuine funded scheme whereas Government schemes are not. It is indicative of the attack that is being made on the private sector, whether it be in the provision of pensions, health or wealth.
My second point relates to education. I am not opposed to comprehensive schools. The new town of Runcorn in the division which I represent is having a comprehensive school. It is perfectly right that as the new town builds up there should be a comprehensive school, but comprehensive education is to a large extent an educational experiment and it should be tested against the existing tripartite system before an attempt is made to force local authorities to convert to the comprehensive system irrespective of the wishes of the people in the area.
In the County of Cheshire, as an example, there are excellent grammar schools, with a higher proportion of pupils being able to get there than in many other counties, there are opportunities for late developers to move over, and there are small secondary modern schools. I believe that the central imposition of comprehensive schools in areas such as these would be an educational disadvantage to the people living in those areas. We should fight to preserve the rights of local authorities to provide the form of education which they believe is best fitted to their areas.
On the question of ports, Runcorn has a fast-growing port. What is needed there is not a system of nationalisation and the disruption which will flow from it, but a little more money spent on a decent access road to make the goods flow more easily to and from the port. What is true of Runcorn is true of many other ports in the country.
I turn to two other matters in the Gracious Speech which, although not wholly relevant to the main issues facing the country at present, are matters which I personally welcome. The first is the statement:
My Government will carry forward their comprehensive programmes of law reform.
I should like to know from the Paymaster-General, who is to reply, exactly what that statement means. Will it include the recommendations of the Beeching Committee aimed at reducing the time lag which now exists in hearing civil cases? We should go over to a system with a few centres outside London in which civil actions are heard, with fixed dates of hearing, and in reasonably accessible places. I hope that we may be told that that part of the Committee's proposals will be implemented.
There is reference in the Gracious Speech to introducing legislation to enlarge the courts' powers to avoid hardship on the break-up of a marriage. I welcome the fact that something is to be done about matrimonial property. I had the good fortune to be a member of the team which produced a recent Conservative Party pamphlet on this subject. We advocated that some action should be taken on this matter, and I am glad to see that the Government propose to tackle the problem of the division of property when a marriage breaks up.
It is easy to welcome such legislation in principle. What matters is the detail of the Bill when it appears. I suggest that the Bill should have as its twin aims first that there is a fair share between the spouses of matrimonial property on a break-up of the marriage; and, secondly, that such a sharing should take into account work done by the wife throughout the marriage in the matrimonial home, rather than at the moment merely taking account of work which she may have done outside the home in industry or something of that nature. Such a Bill will be worthy of support if it achieves the aim of a fairer distribution of property and takes account of the non-financial contribution made by a wife in the household in bringing up children, in assisting her husband, and in providing a happy home.
It is vital that the Bill should be flexible, leaving a wide discretion to the court. Marriages break up for many different reasons and in many different circumstances. If a Bill is to do justice between the parties, not only must it provide the wife with a share of the matrimonial property, but it also must give wide flexibility to the courts so that they may use their discretion in implementing their powers.
I believe that the proposals set out in the Conservative pamphlet were right and that matrimonial property should be looked upon as consisting of "the family assets" and the "non-family assets". The family assets are the assets of the family, the contents of the house, and so on, gained by the couple's joint efforts and bought for their joint use. With these there should be a presumption of a 50–50 division. As to dividing up the non-family assets, the judge should have wide power to take into account the help given by a wife to her husband in building up the husband's business, the fact that she has been willing to go without certain things to build up their joint assets, and all other reasonable factors. The aim is to see that, on a split-up of a marriage, a wife is provided with a reasonable share of the property which her husband has acquired.
I leave the Gracious Speech to refer to a matter which was raised by the Home Secretary in his speech, namely, that of crime and particularly crimes of violence. He gave the House some alarming figures. He spoke of a 9 per cent. increase in the six months period compared to the equivalent six months of last year. One knows that, taking 1968 as a whole, there was an increase of 8 per cent. as against the year 1967.
It came somewhat ill from the right hon. Gentleman when he spoke about the need to increase recruitment into the police force. We on these benches warned him in 1967 when he limited recruitment. We also reminded him in a debate on 23rd July this year of what would happen if he sought to limit recruitment. We said that recruitment would dry up and that, instead of achieving the limited targets which he had set himself, he would find difficulty in attracting the right numbers of recruits into the police force. We warned him that if he chose to turn the tap off in 1967 when the figure went up by 3,000, it would be much more difficult to turn the tap on at a later stage when recruitment fell. This is what has happened. To that extent the Home Secretary, and the Government, must take some responsibility for what has happened during that period.
The need to maintain law and order is one of the vital social issues of our time. It is certainly a matter which concerns the people of this country who wish to see respect for authority restored. Again, on that major social issue the Gracious Speech is silent. Although there are at least two minor matters in the Gracious Speech which I welcome in principle, its greatest sin is that it does not deal with some other major issues which are regarded as relevant matters of the moment by the people of this country.
I join with some of my hon. Friends in giving a welcome to the Gracious Speech whose contents cover a wide range of our industrial and social life. I wish to deal with only two or three matters contained in the Speech which are of great importance to the people of this country.
I wish first to refer to the proposals in the Gracious Speech which seek a change in the method of national insurance and the adoption of a superannuation scheme to provide a measure of social security which I am convinced will give greater security to those who are sick, or disabled, or who have to go into early retirement. It is unfortunate that my right hon. Friend the Member for Llanelly (Mr. James Griffiths) is indisposed. I recall the occasion when he introduced the 1946 National Insurance Act which revolutionised insurance in this country. He brought in a comprehensive Measure which included industrial injury, sickness, unemployment and many other aspects of social insurance. I regret that he is unable to be here today.
Nevertheless, that National Insurance scheme is now outmoded. In recent years it has not faced the changing pattern of industry. I am therefore glad that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Social Services intends at an early date to introduce a Measure which will give greater security, particularly to those who are disabled or who go into retirement. We have been waiting for such a Measure for a considerable time. The younger generation may well say, "These increased pensions will come at some time in the future. They may come into operation in 1972. But what does that mean to us?" I say to them what I said to miners when I was one of their officials in South Wales, and nationally, too: it is all very well when one is in the best of health, when everything in the garden is lovely and when one can look forward to the future, and it is all very well when one is getting a fairly good wage. But when there is an accident in the mines or other industries factory or sickness or disablement or disease, it is comforting to know that one comes within the provisions of a National Insurance Act, even though up to now it has not given adequate security to those in that position.
I have always found that the higher paid men are more difficult to deal with after an accident or disablement than are the lower paid men. The higher paid man can see before him a drop in his income. He can see himself in a position in which all he can expect is a job in the labouring classes, even though he was previously a skilled man. It is only those who come within the provisions of social insurance who realise how important this subject is.
I am glad that the Bill is to be introduced at an early date and I am convinced that it will give greater security to all those who come within the provisions of this legislation. In particular, I am glad of the reference in the Queen's Speech to dealing with pension increases by regulation. Any pension scheme should be inflation proof. What happens is that we have an increase in the cost of living taking place for months, and then a Bill is placed before Parliament to increase pensions. We debate the Bill on First Reading, Second Reading and Third Reading, and all the arguments are advanced. By the time the Bill is on the Statute Book the cost of living has risen again.
The time has arrived—and I am glad that this is mentioned in the Gracious Speech—when the House should deal with this matter by regulation, whereby the pension will be based automatically on the increase in the cost of living. In that way if there is an increase in the cost of living there should be an automatic increase in the pensions level. We should not have to wait for a Bill to be brought before Parliament. Legislation should be so framed and worded that pension increases take place immediately. Above all the other statements in the Queen's Speech, I am glad that that proposal is to be put into operation as soon as possible.
One of the outstanding features of the present National Insurance Act, introduced by my right hon. Friend the Member for Llanelly, was a constant attendance allowance for the seriously incapacitated. The old Workmen's Compensation Acts based compensation on loss of earnings, with a maximum, in those days, of 25s. a week, which was increased in later years. But on the introduction of the National Insurance Act in 1946 and its coming into operation in 1948, a constant attendance allowance was introduced whereby a man's disablement benefit was based not so much on his earnings as on the nature of his disability. Since that Act, therefore the industrially disabled man has been paid a constant attendance allowance when he is immobile or bedridden. What applied to the industrially disabled has rightly applied to the war pensioner. Throughout the country, therefore, the seriously disabled man who requires constant attendance allowance is receiving such an allowance.
But next door to him, or in the same road, we find people suffering from disability through natural causes or disease, bed-ridden and immobile, who are getting only the miserable pittance of £4 10s. a week plus some supplementation. The industrially disabled man, rightly, as well as the war pensioner, receives constant attendance allowance, 100 per cent. disablement benefit and sickness benefit. I know of cases in South Wales —and this is quite right; indeed in some cases I do not think it is enough—who are getting £20 to £22 a week. An old disabled miner said to me the other day, "I am getting over £21 a week". I was talking to him while he was sitting in his chair. "But", he said, "just down the road is a man suffering from poliomyelitis. He is worse than me and he is getting only £4 10s. a week". I am glad that the Secretary of State for Social Services is putting into legislation a method by which a constant attendance allowance or a provision on those lines will be paid to those classes of men and women who are in that position.
I do not want to burden the House, but let us look at one or two of these cases. I have in my constituency a husband of a helplessly disabled woman. She is blind and paralysed on the right side. He has to take care of her. Hon. Members may ask, "Why does he not get help?" But from where will he get help? The home help workers deal only with cleaning the house or cooking. They cannot be there constantly. The hospitals say, "This is a case of permanent disability". Here is a man—a professional man, by the way—who has resigned himself to taking care of his wife. If he is to avoid breakdown in his own health he will need help for one or two hours in the evening. Shift workers must be catered for in this way. How is he to get this help? It is impossible to find one woman who can do all this work for his wife every day, for that would mean that she would have to neglect her own family and herself.
In such cases, therefore, there is a need for some attendance allowance. Where a husband is disabled, the wife cannot go out to work and has to remain at home. Or it may be that a daughter cannot go out to work where a husband or son requires constant attendance and where he is immobile, in a chair, hopeless and helpless. He has to be attended to. But if he is suffering from disablement through natural causes, he does not at present receive the constant attendance allowance. In such cases it is essential that we should take action to help him immediately.
I hope that my hon. Friend on the Front Bench will take a note of the point which I make. We want some assurance that the constant attendance allowance and invalidity pension will be paid now and that the scheme will be put into operation in the next few months, because among these disabled we find the worst poverty of all. These people have had no redress whatever of their suffering. If we are talking about social justice, then we want social justice for this class of the community, even though they are only a minority. In Llanelli the other day I saw a number of these young men who were sitting in chairs, scarcely able to move, some of them paralysed, and yet with smiles on their faces—and they were receiving £4 10s. a week. I know that this Bill is to be brought into operation in 1972, but I beg of the Government to bring it into operation for this class of the community forthwith.
I will refer to one other matter concerning the disabled—the problem of pneumoconiosis in the coalfields. We have men suffering from pneumoconiosis accompanied by emphysema or bronchitis. As a result of the Measure of my hon. Friend the Member for Merthyr Tydvil (Mr. S. 0. Davies) some time ago, we know that where a man has 50 per cent. byssinosis or pneumonconiosis and some emphysema and bronchitis, these diseases are taken into consideration in assessing disability. But there are hundreds of men in the coalfields who have 30 per cent. or perhaps 20 per cent. pneumonconiosis and who are also suffering from emphysema or bronchitis and who are in a very serious condition. I hope that at the conclusion of the debate next week the Ministry will give an assurance that when pneumoconiosis is accompanied by bronchitis and emphysema—that is, when pneumoconiosis has less than a 50 per cent. rating—those other factors will be taken into account in assessing disability.
The hon. Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. Waddington) spoke of real values among the working class of Britain. If there has ever been a class of men who have delivered the goods, it is the miners. With all the pit closures that have occurred and with the uncertainty and lack of security that they have suffered, they have achieved a vast increase in production, and with a reduced manpower force. I understand that production has increased by about 9 per cent. This is a magnificent achievement.
Wherever I go in Britain I hear about the need for increased production. It must be admitted that the miners have done the job. The industry has been highly mechanised and until recent weeks there has been little industrial trouble. When industrial history comes to be written, the miners will be praised not only for carrying on but for increasing production in the face of ever-mounting difficulties. They are an example to every industrial worker.
It is with some pleasure, therefore, that I read in the Gracious Speech that added assistance is to be given to mining. I do not know what form it will take and I hope that before the debate concludes next week we will be given the fullest information on this score.
The Redundancy Payments Scheme for miners has been excellent in tiding men over for three years at the age of 55 while finding a place in the changing pattern of industry. However, this scheme expires in 1971. I take it that the Government have plans in mind to further the scheme beyond that date. If so, those plans will be welcome, although it must be remembered that a man aged 58, having received assistance for three years, still finds it difficult to obtain a job, let alone a less arduous job. We therefore need to extend the whole scope of the redundancy payments arrangements. The miners deserve this. They have faced up to the changing pattern of industry and many of them have had to train to obtain other work.
When a firm closes a factory the men declared redundant are accepted as being redundant from the redundancy payments point of view. In such a case the redundant man is unlikely to be offered work in one of the firm's other factories or industries. However, when a miner is declared redundant from a pit he is told that he may find a job in another pit. Indeed, he may be asked to go to another part of the coalfield which may be many miles distant. He is, therefore, told, "You are not redundant because you can get work in another pit". This may mean the man moving his family, trying to obtain another house or travelling long distances to and from the new pit. As long as he is offered another job in another pit, he is not declared redundant from the point of view of the Redundancy Payments Scheme.
By and large, when a man is offered work in another pit—we should not forget that that pit may close shortly after he joins it—difficulties are bound to arise when he applies for redundancy pay. Thus, when a miner is declared redundant at a pit he should receive redundancy pay forthwith, without any consideration being given to whether or not he can find a job in another pit. This would put the miner on the same footing as every other person in private industry.
Despite all the electioneering speeches that have been made by hon. Gentlemen opposite, I hope that the Government will get on with the task of implementing the proposals in the Gracious Speech and put into operation urgently the measures which they have announced. If they do so they will provide greater security to those who retire, to the disabled and to the miners who have done so much to improve the economy. The miners should receive our first consideration in our endeavour to create greater security for the people generally.
I wish to comment on four points in the Gracious Speech, all of them important. I welcome one of them, I have some doubt about another and I am violently opposed to the other two. I welcome the statement:
My Ministers will remain ready to assist in any way they can to bring peace to Nigeria …".
There has been some comment in the debate about the war which is currently going on in Nigeria, and I spent some time during the Recess in that country. I return convinced that the best help that can be given to Nigeria is in assisting the Federal Government to maintain a single country and resisting the rebellion being led by Colonel Ojukwu. It appears from all the people I met while I was there that there is a genuine desire to retain Nigeria as a single entity and not to have any individual State seceding or breaking away.
Her Majesty's Government are, therefore, completely right to give the support which is being asked for by the Federal Government of Nigeria to help them to bring about an end to the rebellion. There is little doubt that Nigeria has a bright future. At some point it may become a second Kuwait. If so, remembering all the implications which that would have for us, it is essential that we devote our energies to helping the Nigerian Government to solve this problem. After all, it is an important part of the Commonwealth. This, therefore, is an aspect of the Gracious Speech which is extremely important and which should concern all British people.
It is true that in Nigeria there is a great deal of hardship on both sides. Unfortunately, knowing Africa as I do, there is starvation in many countries in Africa. Although a tragic situation has been created by the war in Nigeria, I believe that the Ojukwu régime, in what was the old East Central State, in fighting to secede from the Federation, is doing nothing but harm to the Nigerian concept of a united country and will do severe harm to the economy of that country.
A matter on which I feel somewhat doubtful is the intention mentioned in the Gracious Speech to give consideration to proposals for local government reform. Certain bases of argument have been adduced in recently published reports. I am thinking particularly of the Redcliffe-Maud Report which gives the appearance that local government in Britain is on the point of collapse and that some immediate action is necessary to prevent a collapse taking place. I am among the first to admit that we should see wherever possible that improvements in local government are made, but I wholly reject the idea that local government is on the point of total failure. The proposals set out in the Maud Report, and which presumably will find their way into a White Paper or into legislation, make such a sweeping change in the local government structure of the part of England which I represent as to be extremely damaging to the people who live there. I hope that when the Government follow the comment in the Gracious Speech that
Proposals will be put forward for the reorganisation of local government in England, Scotland and Wales".
they will bear in mind the problems in South Hampshire in my constituency of New Forest.
If the proposals in the Maud Report were accepted, the whole area of New Forest would be divided into two, one of which, as near as one can make it, would be governed from Bristol. and the other from London. As this is an historic and important part of Britain, and can only be regarded in the context of a single unit, it would be disastrous to divide the New Forest in this way, because that would not only damage the area as a whole but would destroy the ability of the area to survive on economic terms.
Now I move to those parts of the Gracious Speech which cause me the most concern. The first is the proposal on page 3:
A Bill will be introduced requiring local education authorities to prepare plans for reorganising secondary education on comprehensive lines.
I am in no way opposed to comprehensive education. When I was the Member for Lewisham, West between 1964 and 1966 I had the closest possible relationship with an excellent comprehensive school, namely, the Forest Hill School, of which some hon. Members may know. That is a purpose-built establishment, and it provides such good education that the parents of children in the area frequently came to see me to ask whether it was possible to do anything to get their children into that school.
I am, and always have been, convinced that comprehensive education has a very important part to play in the education structure of Britain in certain areas, but I hesitate to suggest that against the wishes of parents, teachers, and perhaps local authorities we should introduce an educational system which removes what I think to be important, namely, variety in education. It is dangerous to create an educational system which leaves no room for flexibility. I should like to see as many different types of educational establishment as possible—this may make hon. Gentlemen opposite unhappy—including fee-paying education, because it is an important concomitant of the whole global education picture. I am concerned that if this legislation is introduced we shall get a situation in which compulsion over the freedom of parents will be on such a scale as eventually to have a damaging effect on the freedom of people.
I want young people to be educated as best suits them. If a comprehensive school is the best answer in a particular area—and it is very often difficult to tell this even at this stage in the development of this form of education—I should like to see a comprehensive school built there, a purpose-built comprehensive school, not a collection of odd schools strung together, often separated by wide geographical distances, and called a comprehensive school, because such schools are utterly meaningless in any terms whatsoever.
Also, we must not ignore those good educational establishments which still exist. I am not making a plea for the retention of all grammar schools, just as I am not making a plea for the destruction of all secondary modern schools, because I want to see variety. What I am saying is that I hope the Government will not rush at this for pure administrative tidiness, but will make sure that the people of this country are given an opportunity to express their views.
I know that it is unfashionable to talk about a referendum, and that people are doing this in the context of the Common Market, but when it comes to the question of the education of the young people of this country I think that everybody ought to have an opportunity of saying his piece. A number of my constituents have been trying to prevent the closure of a secondary school in a village. They are most unhappy about what is going to happen when the school is closed. I am merely saying that variety in education is important, and that the proposed legislation will destroy that entirely and will, if we are not very careful, be damaging to the future education of the children of this country.
I now want to deal with another aspect of the Gracious Speech which worries me as much as, if not more than, the last matter to which I referred. The Home Secretary made a long speech without even referring to this issue. Most hon. Members have talked about the things they would like to see, rather than the things that are in the Gracious Speech, and that applies particularly to hon. Gentlemen opposite.
There is one theme which runs through this document and which I regard as extremely dangerous. In this document, as one might predict would happen under the Labour Government, one sees the thread of doctrinaire Socialism coming through loud and clear. During the last Session I spent quite a long time on the Steel Bill. Indeed, my maiden speech was made in the debate on the Queen's Speech in 1964 when we were talking about another aspect of nationalisation. Here again in the Gracious Speech of 1969 we see writ large an increase in nationalisation.
I shall not talk about the effect that this will have on the ports. I propose to talk about a matter which will have far-reaching effects indeed, namely, the statement that:
Bills will be introduced … to enable the Gas Council to search for, refine and market petroleum"—
a sort of mini-Mogul. Has anybody asked the people of this country whether they really want to risk their money on one of the most risky ventures in the world, searching for petroleum? Has anybody asked the people in my constituency whether they want Gas Council garages all over Britain? I believe that this is a gross interference with the commercial life of this country. [Interruption.] If hon. Gentlemen opposite wait a moment, I shall develop this part of my argument.
I regard this decision to go in for an activity at present perfectly adequately undertaken by commercial enterprise, done by experts, as something which should be viewed with grave concern. I think that the whole concept of politicians masquerading as businessmen is futile, stupid, and thoroughly irresponsible. [Interruption.] The hon. Gentleman is, I am sure, a fine constituency Member, and also a fine politician, but he was not chosen to come into the House of Commons because he is a businessman. I was chosen to come here because I had the apparent capabilities of a politician. But I was not chosen to come to the House as a businessman. Nor was the new Minister of Technology, and nor was any hon. Member. Therefore, why should we introduce legislation year after year which gives politicians the powers of businessmen? Why do we not leave those responsibilities to the people who are trained to do the job?
Has not the right hon. Gentleman appreciated after all this time that the nationalised corporations are among the biggest businesses in the country? What we are talking about is extending powers to carry out business activities by businessmen. We are not talking about politicians doing the work.
The Minister has made a valid point. They are the biggest businesses in the country, but they lack the commercial disciplines of private enterprise business. We all know that the taxpayer's pocket is bottomless, as proved by this Government. The taxpayer's money is twopence a bucket. I want to see business run on the normal commercial basis of supply and demand and efficiency. The hon. Member knows that no Minister in charge of a nationalised industry would ever starve that industry of money, however rotten its organisation. I want to see a situation where, rather than allowing the Government to get an even bigger hold on our economy, the clock is turned the other way, so that we start prising its clawing hands off the throat of our economy.
Under the legislation proposed in the Gracious Speech we shall have a large new area of nationalisation suddenly falling within the grasp of the Government. It must be very galling for any Socialist Minister of Technology, glancing around his portfolio and knowing that he has control over the investment programmes of gas, coal, electricity, steel, technology, the I.R.C., and the whole trappings that go with them, to realise that the one that he has not got is the oil industry—so he is starting to buy his way in with the taxpayer's money, so that he can play at being an oil man.
Following up the melodramatic sentiments of the hon. Member on nationalisation, is it not his chief concern that at last the Government are thinking of taking a share in a profit-making enterprise, rather than investing in a lame duck?
It is clear that the hon. Member does not know the structure of our industry. He must realise that the gas industry, which ten years ago had been more or less given up for dead, is now a very viable and thriving one. I am not arguing whether the oil industry is a successful one or otherwise, but it is working efficiently, as was the steel industry before the British Steel Corporation came into being, since when we have had nothing but problems and it has been totally unable to meet its own targets.
This proposal gives the Government an opportunity of going into a risky business with the money of the taxpayers—a business which is already thoroughly efficiently undertaken by private enterprise. The Ministry which has recently been set up and will cover this reorganisation—headed by a former Minister of Science and Technology—will be responsible for sponsoring various investment programmes in no less than 84 per cent. of British industry. One Ministry will be in a position to have the say-so over the investment programme of 84 per cent. of our industry. To my mind that is terrifying.
I do not want to see this process spread any wider. I want to see this suggested piece of legislation fought beak and claw in the House, as it will be by me, because I realise the inherent dangers. If our people realise what this will cost them, those who go to the polls tomorrow in the many by-elections to be held will be even more determined than I know they already are to make sure that this Government do not continue for much longer.
The Gracious Speech has not stimulated much interest on the Government benches. For most of the day hardly anybody has been sitting there. It is a gloomy, dreary and irrelevant Speech. The Home Secretary's speech this afternoon was also all of those things. It was a pity that he did not take the opportunity of ending once and for all an argument which had been surrounding the comments made by my right hon. Friend the Member for Altrincham and Sale (Mr. Barber). If they were so serious as were made out by the Home Secretary and his hon. Friend the Member for Coventry, North (Mr. Edelman) it would have been far better to have given the answer which, for some unknown reason, must be delayed until next Monday.
The debate on the Gracious Speech in the last two days has dealt not with the real problems which worry our people—rising costs and industrial disputes. There was a moment when the Home Secretary sneered at what had happened with the Manchester dustmen today, and somebody talked about industrial reform. The reason why the dustmen come out on strike is simple. It is the reason why all the people at the bottom end of the wage scale come out on strike. It is because the economic policies pursued by the Government have made life for the lower-paid worker almost intolerable.
I do not wish to go any further, save to say that if this is to be the blueprint for the last year of Socialist Administration—and I certainly believe that it will be—we shall have about 30 Bills coming before the House. That number—over one a week—is much too great, and the time must soon come when we get the politicians off the backs of the people and allow the people to develop on their own.
I disagree with much of what the hon. Member for New Forest (Mr. Patrick McNair-Wilson) had to say, but I agree with what he said about local government. Local government has not failed, but we must all agree that there is need for its reform, whether or not we accept the Maud Report. I do not accept Maud as it stands.
I come from the North-West and I can say that people in that area have felt sadly neglected by Governments of all complexions. I am delighted to say that as a result of the efforts of this Government in the past five years there is at least a ray of hope coming to my part of the world. New roads are in course of construction. We have new factories and new industries coming into the city that I have the honour to represent. That situation is being repeated in other parts of Cumberland.
Industry in my part of the country, with Government help, is being modernised. We are all grateful for the help and assistance that we have received from the Government over the past five years, and I hope that it may long continue.
Having said that, there are certain aspects causing great concern in my part of the country. A lot has been said about housing. Carlisle has about 4,000 prewar council houses which need remodernising. There is a growing volume of opinion in the city that consideration should be given to a scheme whereby a local authority can make grants to tenants of council houses who are prepared to modernise their houses according to the authority's specification and under its supervision.
In Carlisle, under Labour control, modernisation of old houses was proceeding slowly. We had an efficient and active direct labour force doing a good job. The city council, now Tory-controlled, having run down this labour force, is finding great difficulty in getting work done, although it gave plenty of promises and outlined a pilot scheme—its third, I understand. At the present rate of progress, despite the aid offered by Her Majesty's Government, we are no further forward today with this scheme than we were two years ago when the Tories took control. There has been a definite slowing down of the modernisation of these houses. There is a feeling in the city, backed and sponsored by the local trades council, that if tenants were provided with grants similar to those available to owner-occupiers, some of the problems of the older houses could be eradicated.
The Government have been taunted by the Opposition for not having completed 500,000 houses, as we had hoped—
Is this to be wondered at? In many places where the Tory Party took control, the building of houses was deliberately run down. This certainly applies to Carlisle. At the same time, the number of applicants on the council's housing list is increasing weekly. The council house building programme in Carlisle has dropped to its lowest ever and the waiting list is increasing.
To be fair and, I hope, honest, at long last the position is being looked at. But it will be over 12 months from now before a new house built by the local authority will be ready for occupation. I shudder to think what the waiting list will be like when we reach that time.
Another aspect which has been giving cause for concern—and I make no apology for raising it tonight—is the cost of living. When the Tories were in power the cost of living rose. I concede that it has risen during our years in office—
But what is causing great concern is the annual round of bus fare increases. This is certainly causing great hardship, especially for many of our older citizens. Not everyone has a car. What is more, our cities are now more congested than ever and there are inadequate parking facilities. Many people rely upon buses to get to and from their work and into the shopping centres.
During the last two weeks I have received many letters suggesting that something should be done to help the old people by way of concessionary fares. The Transport Act 1968, which was vigorously opposed by the Tories, made provision whereby, in consultation with the Minister, local authorities would have powers to introduce concessionary fares for their older citizens. At the moment it appears that only those authorities which own and control their own transport can offer this facility.
Earlier this year I asked the Carlisle City Council what efforts were being made to take advantage of that provision in the Act? The reply was that it was waiting for the Government.
A few weeks ago, when I raised the question again, I was told that the matter had received preliminary consideration at a meeting of the council's finance and general purposes committee earlier this year when it was decided to defer taking any action until such time as an Order under Section 138 of the Act, prescribing the method of calculating the cost to the local authority of providing such a concession, was made.
I have heard from the Minister, since coming into the Chamber today, that there will be consultations. I have also had correspondence with the Ribble Bus Company, which serves that area. The Ribble Bus Company says that it is a matter for the city council and then, if appropriate, for an approach to be made to the company to work out practical means of affording such concessions as the council might wish to see introduced and the method by which it would pay for them.
The legislation is there to be used, but it appears to be a case of passing the buck every time. It is difficult to explain. In some parts of the country elderly people are catered for, and rightly so, because transport in those areas is under the control of the local authorities. Yet the older citizens in my constituency and in many others are denied this service, although fares are increasing yearly under both Tory and Labour Governments. Unfortunately the older citizens cannot go to the Supplementary Benefits Commission to ask for help with their bus fares. Therefore, I hope that the Minister will help authorities wishing to take advantage of the concessions provided for in the Act by giving them the go-ahead to help their senior citizens by the introduction of concessionary fares.
It is to be hoped also that when the school-leaving age is raised some concession will be made in respect of children's bus fares in the light of the large number of children staying on at school. That may be a pious hope, but it is a matter which should be given serious consideration.
I was delighted to hear today from my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary that the Government intend to look into the hooliganism and violence taking place in our society. I am proud to be a member of the National Union of Railwaymen. Only this week that body received from its North Midland District Council a long resolution condemning some of our newspapers for handing out large sums of money to print the story of the train robber's wife when the poor driver who was coshed in the course of that robbery is living almost at a subsistence level.
In my constituency we have had rather a bad Press lately about an incident which took place at a local football match. I have been told that the game that night was one of the finest ever played at Brunton Park, that this was the first serious incident here for years and that it was magnified out of all recognition. I want to assure the House that the directors of the Carlisle United Football Club, with the co-operation of the Cumbria Police, intend to do their utmost to stamp out hooliganism. In the main the citizens of Carlisle are ordinary, law-abiding people. It is a small minority who do the damage and give us a bad name. This is not a party matter, but one for us all.
More than anything else, I would like to see a return to those deeper moral standards which were characteristic of our forefathers. They were based upon solid Christian foundations which I am not ashamed to propagate in this House.
I have had the privilege of visiting a number of industrial firms in my constituency from time to time. Recently I went to one which was started by two men at the end of the war and had built up a wonderful reputation. Its wings are spread not only in the North and North-East, but over the Border and into the constituency of the hon. Member for Dumfries (Mr. Monro). Displayed in the managing director's office is an impressive quotation from the writings of Henry Knight Miller. The founder of the firm assures me that the same placard is on view in every branch of his firm. I quote because it contains good advice not only for hon. Members but for people everywhere.
Henry Knight Miller wrote:
Energy is indestructible. Every intelligently directed effort adds to the world's enrichment. The man who creates a new industry, a new invention, a new ideal, is one of life's princely benefactors. We may not immediately see the material reward, but no man can be permanently poor who gives himself faithfully to life in constructive effort. He may fail today, but he will triumph tomorrow. He may be poor today, but he will enjoy the reward of the world's appreciation tomorrow.
I am sure that the hon. Member for Carlisle (Mr. Ron Lewis) will not expect me to follow him in some of the issues that he has raised. I endorse some of his final sentiments, but perhaps his greatest contribution has been to shift the geographical centre of gravity from the southlands of England to the more important part of this still United Kingdom. I will make that point at greater length in a moment.
It is a tribute to the quality of the debate that it has shown a promise and at times a heart which is missing from the Gracious Speech. Many hon. Members have raised issues of a constituency sort, some of which have been very moving. I am thinking not least of the hon. Member for Bedwellty (Mr. Finch) speaking of the problems of mining communities.
My concern is with the Gracious Speech itself, which one notices is only occasionally mentioned in passing, even by both Front Bench speakers today. I found the speech dull, disappointing and totally depressing. One or two sentences gave me a slight lift. After all, it started well with a reference to the visit of Her Majesty to Australia and New Zealand. A fortnight ago I had the privilege of talking to those delightful people from the Fiji Islands and Cook Islands, and 1 know how much the visit of Her Majesty and Prince Philip to South-East Asia and the Pacific will be welcomed.
From there on there was a sad decline in the quality of the Gracious Speech. I do not dissent from what has been said by hon. Members on both sides about the proposals for the control of dangerous drugs. However, it was a dull Speech, and here I refer the comments of the hon. Member for Coventry, North (Mr. Edelman) when he said that it was an indication of the quality of life. I thought that in saying that he was drawing on his imagination and skill as a novelist rather than his skill as a politician.
There are 27 Bills outlined in 41 thin and ambiguous sentences. The sentence which I find most intriguing is that which says:
A statement will be presented to you of My Government's future plans for public expenditure.
I would like some hint of what those plans for public expenditure are. It may be that the last sentence of the speech is also a trailer:
Other measures will be laid before you.
No doubt they will be revealed in the course of the coming Session.
Are these new plans for public expenditure to be along the lines of the extra £8,000 million in loans or borrowings, or are they to be in the form of cuts in defence, in which the Secretary of State for Defence takes such a curious pride? Are we to see even more public expenditure in the course of the coming Session and any future Sessions which, heaven help us, may follow?
In a constituency in which a by-election is to take place tomorrow, the Gorbals, the right hon. Member for Belper (Mr.George Brown) told the good people there that high taxes were a good thing for them, since the majority of them paid very few taxes and, unhappily, a number none at all, and his promise was that taxation would increase rather than diminish. Elsewhere we have heard threats of wealth taxes, and a number of my colleagues have spoken of the dangers of nationalisation of the ports and of petroleum resources. I shall not dwell on this now but we shall be coming back to the subject as it concerns the Clyde because that is an area which is crucial to the economic future of the United Kingdom.
The Gracious Speech leaves out a great deal. Essentially it is a threat of a pedestrian way of life, the non-imaginative way of life against which the young are in revolt. Were the hon. Member for Coventry, North present, I would amplify the point. The young have a distaste for a manipulative society, and indeed manipulated schemes.
I regret that a number of issues which concern Scotland, that have not been referred to today, find no place in the Gracious Speech. It is true that there is a somewhat ambiguous reference to changes in
the feudal system of land tenure".
The Gracious Speech refers not to abolition, but to
reform of certain of the features of the … system".
Until this is spelled out we shall not know what is meant.
But a striking fact is that five major issues of urgent importance in Scotland are abolutely unmentioned in the Speech. It is true that there is a reference to the Wheatley Report, which is the Scottish equivalent of the Maud Report for England. I emphasise to the Government that they must give the Wheatley Report time. There must be adequate time for consideration and discussion of this subject in Scotland, as I am sure there must be for discussion and consideration of the Maud Report in England. I readily join with the hon. Member for Wood Green (Mrs. Joyce Butler), who seconded the Motion for the Address, in emphasising the importance of contact between people and their elected representatives, local or national.
My worry is that if the Wheatley Report is implemented with seven great regions of Scotland there will be huge areas such as the Western region with Glasgow and the whole surrounding area where there will be a complete absence of contact between people living on housing schemes and their councillors. I should have welcomed in the Wheatley Report, or any other report on local government, serious proposals that on a new housing scheme there should be a house set apart for a local ombudsman, representative, councillor, adviser—whatever name we give him—at whose door people could knock and ask for advice. This suggestion came up regularly in our debates on the Social Work (Scotland) Bill last Session, and will no doubt be coming up as regularly in debates on the matching Measure for England.
In this world of automation and remoteness it is essential that people should know whom to contact. There should be immediately available to local residents someone with whom they can talk about their problems. In considering the proposals of the Maud and the Wheatley Reports, and the suggested mammoth changes of structure, are we being serious if we leave out the question of finance, which makes the machine tick? Until we look at the question of finance, and the problem of local income tax and consider the whole restructuring of national taxation and get away from the ratepaying system which bedevils so much of our thinking in local government, I do not think there will be much hope in making formal changes of structure or area.
I am greatly disturbed to find a total omission from the Gracious Speech of any reference to changes in the administration of the health services in Scotland. I speak on this matter with a certain amount of trepidation because I had the honour of being a member of the Birsay Committee on General Medical Practice in the Highlands and Islands of Scotland from 1965 to 1967. I signed the Report six days before I had the honour of coming to this House as a Member of Parliament. Two-and-a-half long years have passed, but what has resulted from the Birsay Report? There have been the Green Paper and a number of favourable nods by the Secretary of State for Scotland when we have raised questions about it. The report made fundamental proposals about allowances for doctors in practice in the Highlands and Islands and for the integration of local government medical services, hospitals and general practitioner services on lines which are now becoming generally discussed.
I expected some hint that the Green Paper might be ready to become a White Paper and that we might have got a little further in the discussion and even had a trial area considered. Dare I say in the absence of the right hon. Member for Orkney and Shetlands (Mr. Grimond) that we would like something done in that respect for the Orkneys, which have shown a certain sympathy for an integrated medical service. I should like to see recognition of the importance of health and health services such as has come through in one or two speeches made today.
I am much concerned that Scottish housing is totally ignored in the Gracious Speech. Scottish housing, particularly with the Gorbals by-election being held tomorrow, is a dangerous and difficult subject to discuss briefly. I do not need to remind the House that the Glasgow debt, which one has to check minute by minute, is now of the order of £311 million. Voices are being raised in Scotland asking that it should be written off. Sometimes that is put much more bluntly in Glasgow.
There is a basic problem which affects the city, which has responsibility for the area around it. Whole suburbs which in the United States would be called "white" suburbs, the snob areas of Milngavie, Bearsden and Rutherglen, have lived for years on Glasgow, and Glasgow has had to carry an immense burden. Basically it has been the school centre, for many parents have sent their children to Glasgow schools from the surrounding area. It has also been the theatre and cinema centre, and many people have got a great deal out of Glasgow without putting a penny into the running of the city. Because of this we should have heard about the finance of local government. In the City of Glasgow, with new bridges crossing the river and now a tunnel which is a great asset to the West End of the city, there is need for some degree of the local costs in housing, education, bridges and roads to be transferred to the central Government.
Another omission, which in part has been remedied by the Home Secretary this afternoon, is reference to crime. I wish that this had been spelled out in more detail in the Gracious Speech. Crime is a subject which worries every Member from a Scottish constituency, and which worries those of us who have the honour to represent Glasgow in particular. This, again, is a subject to which I hope we shall have the chance of returning later.
There is a fifth and striking omission. I should welcome hearing reasonably early from the Secretary of State for Scotland his views on the General Teaching Council. Hanging over Scottish education and particularly the quality and zeal of its teaching staff has been the whole problem of what is to be the composition of their professional union. We were debating this all through last year. The time is long past when we should have had a clear statement of the Secretary of State's intentions about who is to compose the new G.T.C. and what submissions have been made to him and from what interests, so that we can know his views. By December elections for that body will be coming up, and so we ought to know in good time.
May I finally refer to a subject which is not Scottish and about which England has much to learn from Scotland? This concerns the reference to the reorganisation of secondary education on comprehensive lines. Should a mere Scottish Member step into this difficult land of comprehensive English style education? Coming from a country in which education has for centuries been fairly democratic—though one has always to remember that some of the schools in Edinburgh are something of an exception—I view with horror the suggestion that there should come from any central authority directions to local authorities how they should organise the school system.
I should have thought that the whole of our experience in Scotland last year would have been a model to England of what not to do. There was then interference with the remaining tiny number of fee-paying schools, schools in Glasgow and Edinburgh which were asking only small fees.
But I am not saying merely that I do not like interference with the local authorities. If we are talking about the reorganisation of local authorities, we must respect the authorities we are discussing and not have this degree of dictatorial control. I agree with what has been said already from these benches about the importance of variety and flexibility in education, but I want to make one or two points which have not been made.
I believe that parents gain a great deal when they have the act of choice to make about where they send their children. There is a degree of responsibility which affects the whole family when that act of choice is made by the parent. If one studies higher education and higher school education in the United States and in the U.S.S.R. today, one will see that the models which are now being held up are those of the English grammar school. Concern with training "alpha" people is coming to be as important in the United States and Russia as concern with the handicapped. In a sense, handicapped children are in the same situation as gifted children, they are exceptions, in the one case tragic exceptions, and in the other the exceptions on whom the future of civilisation can depend.
I say seriously to the Government, "Interfere with our present schools at your peril". I say it for another reason. A school is a strange organic thing. I am thinking of Glasgow High School, 800 years old and a pretty democratic place, as the Scottish Members who are present will endorse. I am thinking of what happened to me when I was transferred compulsorily. Having had one year in what to me was a great school, Rutherford College, in Newcastle-upon-Tyne, where I was born—it was the school to which I wanted to go—I was compulsorily transferred to a splendid new school which had been built from scratch and opened by His late Majesty King George V with all the trimmings. I did not want to go there, for it had no traditions; I wanted to share in the history of my first school and in turn contribute to it. If the Government interfere with schools by decree, they will legislate education from dogma, where much of this proposal comes, although it sometimes comes from envy, which is even worse. To interfere with the quality of the school is dangerous.
The risk, of course, is that in creating comprehensives, while there will be good comprehensives—and we can cite Holland Park—there will also be bad comprehensives. Parents will want to have their children in the "good" schools and not in the "bad". Children can prove that they are snobs with or without an exam at the age of 11. They can do so within the first hour of getting into a class. Selectivity creeps in very early.
I regard this proposal, on which it seems there will be much attention in this Session's deliberations, as very dangerous. It is a product of dogma from the past. It is relevant to encouraging the minds of people, but, more than that, it hides the real problems of the schools—finding the teachers, producing the courses which will excite children, particularly betwen the ages of 13 and 17, those middle crucial years which are so neglected. For instance, I wish that there had been a reference to the work of the Schools Council to show that there was some concern with the quality and content of education rather than this formula of restructuring it in the illusion that the structure will do anything.
I conclude by echoing what was said yesterday in proposing the Loyal Address by the hon. Member for Berwick and East Lothian (Mr. Mackintosh). I would call him my friend in more ways than just the honourable sense; he is a former colleague in a university and a good personal friend. He quoted John Stuart Mill and said:
I do believe like Mill … that Governments can influence the tone and atmosphere of a society."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 28th October, 1969; Vol. 790, c. 13.]
I hope that his Front Bench pondered his words—that Governments can influence the tone and atmosphere of a society. I believe that the present Government have influenced to its detriment the country's tone and atmosphere.
Last night, as were other hon. Members in other parts of the country, I was addressing a meeting in the Gorbals, a battered part of a battered city, terribly poor, with a long history of violence, now happily disappearing. I expected the questions to be about the cost of living and housing. The two great subjects on which the discussion between the audience and myself in the end hinged were overseas aid and the future of Gibraltar. The people of Britain are still a proud people. I wish that there had been some evidence in the Gracious Speech that would give them reasons for being proud.
The hon. Member for Glasgow, Pollok (Mr. Wright) began his concluding and interesting remarks on education with an apology for intervening in English affairs. I hope that he will forgive me if I resist the temptation to involve myself this evening in Scottish affairs.
It is inevitable, especially in the run up to a general election, that there should be a considerable amount of political knockabout. I suppose that it was understandable that yesterday the Leader of the Opposition attacked the Government for what he called broken promises and broken pledges. I have carefully reread the previous Gracious Speeches of the present Government and, in particular, that of 1964 when the Labour Government took office after their election victory. It is fair to say that, whatever their faults, what Labour Governments promise by way of legislation, they do. I therefore welcome the Gracious Speech and much of what it contains. There is a considerable volume of legislation, much of it necessary and socially desirable, and our constituents will benefit from it.
However, in all seriousness I make one caveat. It is true that we live in a fast changing world which requires swift legislative changes, but it is easy to legislate too quickly and for the system thereby to get overloaded.
I go a step further. Winning elections does not necessarily require legislation, as the Government are learning. The Government's better political fortunes are due to an improvement in the economy at the national and individual levels. They are not necessarily due to the volume of laws passed in the last Session.
In past years the Government have undertaken extensive and important reforms to make Parliament a better workshop. I have particularly in mind the new Select Committees. Could not we go a step further and consider for future Parliaments the possibility of what I would term the pre-legislative examination of certain Bills by Select Committees Two years spent considering certain Measures, one year on a pre-legislative examination and one on the legislative process, would be of great benefit both legislatively and administratively. Hon. Members will readily call to mind examples of Acts and even of future legislation where this process would be desirable.
From one's own experience of the work of Select Committees, one can envisage the process which I am recommending consisting not merely of calling Ministers for a pre-legislative consultation but also of calling their experts and advisers. We have nothing to fear from undertaking experimental work of this kind, and I welcome the observations of Ministers on this proposal.
In the weeks before the Gracious Speech the Government announced their proposal for restructuring Ministries, and, in particular, a welcome was given to the strengthening and reorganising of the Ministry of Technology so that it could incorporate the nationalised industries and include the sponsorship of the bulk of our private industrial undertakings.
I understand that the Paymaster-General is to make his debut at the Dispatch Box tonight when he replies to this part of the debate. I am particularly glad that the responsibility for the fuel and power industries is his and that it has been brought within Mintech. Fuel policy has suffered in past years, not least because of the split which was involved between having responsibility for nuclear energy partly with the Ministry of Technology, covering the development side, and partly with the Ministry of Power, responsible for the client, which was the electricity industry. We may overcome some of these difficulties as a result of the new set-up.
It is two years since the Government issued their celebrated White Paper on Fuel Policy. It is reasonable to say that it was withdrawn for statistical consideration in the light of devaluation. In view of the new Ministerial set-up, there is everything to be said for either publishing a new White Paper or revising the old one so that we may see the assumptions and calculations on which the Government are proceeding.
I still remain absolutely unrepentantly of the view—perhaps I am the only member of the Committee on Science and Technology to do so—that we need an independent inquiry into the comparative costs of electricity generation; that is, of coal, oil and nuclear power. I am reinforced in this belief by the fact that interest rates at their present high levels—they are higher now than they were two years ago—may result in the country paying a very heavy price indeed for its espousal of the advanced gas-cooled reactor as a commercial venture, a decision for which the Government are responsible but for which hon. Gentlemen opposite must bear some responsibility.
Would not my hon. Friend agree that there has been a singular lack of attention given to the possibilities of total energy generation from gas, not least in view of the discoveries made off-shore?
I am grateful for that expression of view, and, without necessarily agreeing with my hon. Friend, I assume that the independent inquiry to which I referred would take that and other factors into account.
My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister referred to the unofficial dispute in the pits, to which my hon. Friend the Member for Bedwellty (Mr. Finch) referred in moving terms. Hon. Members who, like me, represent constituencies with mining communities are keenly aware of the ordeal that one pit closure after another has meant. However, my hon. Friends must recognise that without the National Coal Board and the support which the Government have given the industry the process would have been more painful. The news in the Gracious Speech of further assistance being given to coal mining will, therefore, be welcome.
I mention this matter for another reason. The wool textile industry is the largest industry in my constituency and Mintech will become its sponsor. We witness today serious problems in the wool textile industry. While they are not as drastic or dramatic as those in coal mining, they would be easier of solution if private industry and the Government got together more swiftly on the basis of a common policy.
The facts are there and are not difficult to discover. As the responsible Ministers will know, the facts about the wool textile industry were fully described in the Hunt Report and in even more formidable terms in the N.E.D.C. Report on the strategic future of the wool textile industry.
There is still a great demand for the products of the wool textile industry both in Britain and overseas. Having said that, however, I must enter a word of warning. We must face the fact that the number of manufacturing firms in the industry will undergo a serious decline in the coming years and that there will be a serious decline in the industry's labour force.
We must also face the fact that there is urgent need for re-equipment in terms of new machinery and buildings. I assure hon. Members that the picture I am painting is not an alarmist one. Only last week the closure was announced, very suddenly indeed, of Dewsbury's third largest wool textile mill. I fear that the experience of my constituency is not an isolated one but one which has been isolated on in wool textile areas in recent years—and there is some danger of this trend accelerating.
Some of the closures have resulted from the fact that demand in certain sectors of the wool textile industry is not sufficiently buoyant. But even if demand in those sectors were to improve, I still believe that we shall not need the same number of manufacturers and employees as we have needed hitherto. Many in the industry are alive to the urgency of this problem. But even the N.E.D.C. has under-estimated the need for new buildings and it is inclined to over-estimate the availability of liquid funds.
The Hunt Report, which dealt with the subject of grey areas, diagnosed the problem of the wool textile industries but shied away from the solution which was offered by the N.E.D.C.; namely, a Government grant for re-equipment. There has been a lot of praise of the Hunt Report, but I found this aspect of it disappointing. Now the wool textile report of the N.E.D.C. was published about four months ago. The Government have been extremely coy about announcing their conclusions on it. I have not been able to trace any definite statement of the Government's view on this important Report. Do they accept the need that some financial help should be given to the industry? I think they should.
What I find very difficult to accept is that Ministers have been reluctant to give intermediate area status to the textile areas involved, especially the heavy woollen district of Dewsbury and Batley, whose special needs were accepted by a report made to the Board of Trade in 1948 when the Prime Minister was President of the Board of Trade, and yet at the same time give a financial injection to the wool textile industry as recommended by the N.E.D.C. Committee. If the Government cannot do both, let them do one thing or the other.
The Government have at their disposal a readily available instrument for the assistance of the wool textile industry; namely, the Industrial Reorganisation Corporation. It was for me an interesting experience during the recess to visit a mining machinery firm in my constituency which has been involved in a reorganisation sponsored by the I.R.C. I was very impressed by the corporation's efforts to weld three firms into one firm which separately might not have remained viable.
As I look at some of the older industries in my constituency, with the need for units to produce much longer runs which can be sold economically, and all the difficulties involved for the people living there, I remain as convinced, and perhaps more convinced, of our need to join the Common Market. There will be problems, but it is vitally necessary for British industry to be able to sell in a larger market at home and abroad if some of our industries are to survive. I respect the misgivings of many hon. Members about the Common Market. What I respect less are the manœuvrings which I have detected this week by the Leader and Deputy Leader of the Opposition, who are apparently inclined to make political capital out of the Common Market issue. The Government are right to persist in their efforts to get this country into the Common Market, and they should be commended on them.
I support the plea of the hon. Member for Dewsbury (Mr. Ginsburg) for this country to have closer economic links in Europe. My constituency in Lincolnshire is very close to his in Yorkshire. Many of the problems which the hon. Gentleman mentioned would be solved if we had closer economic links with the market in Europe.
I turn to an aspect of the Gracious Speech which affects my constituency very much and which would be helped enormously by closer links with Europe or by a change, in a modified way, to the same system of agricultural support as that which exists on the Continent. I do not know whether the House appreciates the very bad state of the countryside. I know that we are benefiting from St. Luke's summer and that many people who drove around the countryside in the autumn thought that the harvest was in and that it was a good harvest. But it was a very bad harvest in terms of the return to the agricultural industry. The Times published a report to the effect that it was not such a bad harvest as some people made out. But The Times correspondent went no further than the southern edge of the country, and there was a very robust protest from Lincolnshire and Yorkshire and the other major agricultural areas after that report appeared.
The position in Lincolnshire, the major agricultural county, is this. Nearly all the grain has yielded less than one ton per acre. I estimate the average in my constituency to be about 17 cwt. an acre. The National Agricultural Advisory Service for Lincolnshire and Yorkshire quotes yields of about 25 cwt. an acre, but that is taking into account the high light barley lands which have not been badly hit by the weather for two consecutive years.
What does a yield as low as this per acre mean to a farmer? I quote a small farm of 250 acres on a bank in my constituency which has been in the family for three generations. It was normal to borrow £9,000 to fertilise and sow the farm for the coming harvest. The farmer owed the bank £9,000 before harvest. If the harvest yield is down by one-third, as it is this year, he is able to pay back only £6,000. Therefore, in order to sow, plant and cultivate the farm for 1970, he is forced to borrow £9,000 plus £3,000, making £12,000. With present yields, and if the fertiliser subsidies continue to be cut, the farmer will be able to pay back only half of his loan at the end of next year's harvest.
This is a very serious state of affairs for many small farming families in my constituency. For the first time for gene- rations their harvest cheque has failed to pay off their overdrafts at the bank. We all know that under the Government, if we are able to get an overdraft, we have to pay the highest bank interest rates ever charged in this country.
The agricultural industry, as reflected in my constituency, needs a massive expansion and not the small selective expansion mentioned in the Gracious Speech. We shall get this massive expansion only by changing and modifying our system to bring it into line with the protection now given to farmers on the Continent. What I find so depressing about the Gracious Speech is that there is absolutely no mention of an expansion—even the expansion visualised this time last year by the Little Neddy Report on the agricultural industry. It did not visualise a small selective expansion. It visualised a major expansion in every single product except eggs. It breathed some optimism and enthusiasm into the agricultural industry which is sadly lacking at the moment.
One of the most depressing things is that we cannot believe that hon. Members opposite even want the moderate selective expansion mentioned in the Gracious Speech when one of the senior civil servants in the Ministry of Agriculture goes to New Zealand and gives a commitment that we in this country will not expand sheep production one iota. That does not give people in this country confidence in the future of the Government's policy. It is very depressing when we have a balance of payments problem—even still—that there should be no mention whatsoever in the Gracious Speech of the large amount of import savings, or of the import-saving rôle, of the agricultural industry, and we shall not get an expansion without some carrot to the agricultural industry in order to attract more capital into it, and we shall only get capital for expansion by increasing the price of the end product.
I do not believe hon. Gentlemen opposite realise just how depressed the farmers are. One of the most telling indications that I can find is the very large number of men in the constituency who would appear to be of great substance but have had to come up to London to see if they could sell their farms to somebody prepared to lease them back to them. A very large amount of land in Lincolnshire is now changing hands. When we used to argue about the prosperity of the agricultural industry between 1959 and 1963, if anybody said that agriculture was depressed somebody in the House would say, "Look at the price of land. You cannot buy an acre under £300." The truth today is that many of these people are coming up to London and begging other people to buy their farms and lease them back so that they can get some capital and maintain their homes and go on working in their family businesses.
While talking of capital in the agricultural industry, it would be churlish not to welcome the mention in the Gracious Speech of the rationalisation of grants for fixed capital investment in the agricultural industry. I hope that if we are to have rationalisation of these grants we will have it in a comprehensive way. One of the most effective schemes of helping a farm with capital injection was the Hill Farming and Livestock Rearing Act, because in that case to get a capital grant one had to have a scheme for the whole farm. Just because one wanted a new byre or a new barn one could not get a 50per cent. grant. It had to be a scheme for the complete modernisation of the whole farm. Any capital injection should be linked with a review of the whole business—not just a grant for one person's particular whim because he wants to spend money on a new barn or a new byre just because his neighbour bas got one.
Having said something about the major industry in my constituency, I must say that I cannot see very much help for other industries in my division. Unemployment during the whole of last year in the Gainsborough Labour Exchange area averaged 4·5 to 5 per cent. of the insured population. One person in 25 during the last year has been on the employment exchange. The employment exchange, for the first time since I have represented Gainsborough, has become the centre of the town again and the centre of a great many people's worries. The hon. Member for Dewsbury spoke about redundancies, and we have a substantial number of redundancies hanging over us yet again in some of the industries in my constituency.
The only thing which will improve the prosperity of the Gainsborough area and the whole of north-east Lincolnshire is for the Government to go ahead with a properly phased programme for the continuation of the building of power stations along the Trent. Do not let us argue here whether they should be coal-burning or oil-burning. I know that we have available here advice from hon. Members opposite about that, but do not let us argue what sort of power stations they should be. Let us leave that for the experts. Along the borders of Lincolnshire and Yorkshirewe have a very large labour force very skilled in constructing major power stations, and we need another new power station now to pick up the slack caused by existing ones, and we want a very firm indication from the Government that such a project will go ahead in the near future. The labour is there, the resources are there, and the county councils want the increased rateable value. The resources of north Lincolnshire and Nottinghamshire are not being utilised in this way.
We have often talked in this House about the development of Humberside and the north end of my constituency. If we are to have this development we have got to have a substantial expansion of communications. We shall never get Lindsey County Council to look at the communications of the area as a whole and go on with the very successful development which it has been having on the south Humber bank if we have hanging over it, as there is hanging over it, the threat in the Gracious Speech to reform all local government. The argument used by Redcliffe-Maud seems to be that there must be one authority for developing both sides of an estuary. Look at the Clyde, look at the Forth, look at Merseyside—authorities on each side of the estuary. What I want to make quite clear today is that in all this argument about the reform and the reorganisation of local government, which is being carried on with such indecent haste, so that local authorities have to make their recommendations on Redcliffe-Maud by this month—I think the date was—it is quite clear that Lincolnshire is not prepared to have the south Humber bank taken away from it. Lincolnshire has started the development of south Humberside far more successfully than its colleagues in Yorkshire have that on the north bank, and we in the County of Lincolnshire wish to be allowed to continue this work.
I have said that in the long Speech about proposed legislation I can see no single Measure which is going to bring immediate relief to the agricultural stagnation which is affecting my constituency. Worse still, I can see no ray of hope for the large number of people who are now without any work whatsoever in the Gainsborough division.
Attractive as it is to follow the hon. Member for Gainsborough (Mr. Kimball), I must admit that since I have neither farmers nor farms in my constituency it ill behoves me to speak about such a subject, although someone much wiser than I once remarked that politicians speak more eloquently on subjects about which they know very little than on subjects about which they know a great deal, which is, perhaps, another way of saying that the more one knows about a subject the more humble one is and the less likely to be dogmatic.
Similarly, I do not want to digress too far into the realms of the speech of the hon. Member for Glasgow, Pollok (Mr. Wright). I am sorry he is not here. I take up one point he made about comprehensive education. I know he does not have a dogmatic outlook on this, but I was rather amused at his statement this evening because I remember that two years ago he and I addressed a middleclass—I would say, if I may dare to use that term in this Chamber—audience of parents on the subject of comprehensive education, and I believe that it was because the audience, the people there, the parents, who were taking part in the discussion, themselves evinced such a strong interest in and strong support for comprehensive education that the hon. Gentleman tore up the speech he was going to make and decided in that instance that discretion was the better part of valour, and fell into line, more or less, with what I said on the subject. We did not fall out: we fell in on it.
Similarly the hon. Member for the New Forest (Mr. Patrick McNair-Wilson), I believe it was, raised some very interesting points about the philosophy behind nationalisation. It is a long time since I have heard such a heated outpouring in connection with this subject, and it would be very interesting indeed to become involved in the pros and cons of the balances of which industries should and which should not be nationalised, but I think the point was very well made that if the Government decide that the nationalisation of certain industries is a necessary part of their economic, industrial and political programme, then it is as well that they indulge also in industries which are making some kind of profit in addition to industries which are merely taken over in order to provide social services.
Be that as it may, I wish to refer to certain aspects of the Gracious Speech. I am very pleased at the efforts, and the great effect of these efforts, of my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary in Northern Ireland. My hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Blackley (Mr. Rose), shortly after entering this House, formed an organisation called the Campaign for Democracy in Northern Ireland, which I was pleased to join. About two years later he and I, in company with another hon. Member, the Member for Salford, West (Mr. Orme), toured the whole of Northern Ireland. We were appalled at what we saw. I will not go through a full description of the situation in that difficult and almost miserable part of the United Kingdom, but the problems which more than 40 years of Unionism had brought were obvious. There was mass unemployment, which in some areas was deliberately continued to make the Catholics emigrate. We saw evidence of the gerrymandering of boundaries, and we had clear evidence that the Catholics in Northern Ireland were treated as second-class citizens.
I know that there are problems on both sides and that there are difficulties involved in invoking everything that we, as a decent democratic society, would like to invoke. Nevertheless, a great deal of economic aid, plus the planning of that economic aid, has to be given to Northern Ireland. Commending as we do my right hon. Friend for his actions in Northern Ireland, this firm resolve that every citizen in Northern Ireland must have the same rights as citizens in any other part of the United Kingdom must be adhered to.
I am disappointed that there is no reference, other than an oblique one, in the Gracious Speech to housing. I want to be parochial in this and to refer to my native city of Glasgow. A Labour administration in Glasgow, from the end of the Second World War to the time that the Labour Administration lost power, rehoused nearly 400,000 people at rents which everyone could afford. There are still about 60,000 or 70,000 families in the city who require new houses. This is testimony more to the gigantic problem in the past and the neglect of previous generations than to the failure of the housing programme in the post-war years. I have for many years believed that places like Glasgow and other cities in the United Kingdom with housing problems are in a special category when it comes to building new houses.
Unfortunately, apparently for party reasons, the present Conservative administration is reducing the number of houses being built because it is dedicated to the reduction of the rates. House building for letting purposes is costly and must inevitably add a burden to the rates; so the administration is saving money by building fewer houses. Where people are badly housed in any part of the United Kingdom, the houses should be erected first and the argument about who pays for them should come later. I am not suggesting that it is easy to raise money for building houses, but the question of who pays should be settled later.
In Scotland, and even more so in Glasgow than in any other part of Scotland, the building of houses for sale is at a much lower level than it is in England. In England roughly one house in every two is built for sale. In Scotland the percentage is not more than one in four, and in Glasgow last year about 92 houses were built for owner-occupation. The Government should encourage local authorities to act as building societies, and to give loans to people who wish to build and purchase their own house.
I have no objection to this so long as it helps the housing problem in even a relatively small way, but it should not and never will supersede the building of houses for rental at rents which people can afford.
I commend the Queen's Speech for at least mentioning overseas aid. Many hon. Members have been concerned about our overseas aid programme. I have received letters from constituents asking that there should be a firm commitment by the Government of the country to a higher level of overseas aid. The hon. Member for Pollock mentioned a meeting he attended where people were advocating policies which were not in their own interests, and this is something which we should be thinking about carefully. Here is a field of moral endeavour in which we can combine forces. It may be said that the benefits of the Empire and colonial exploitation did not go to the ordinary people of this country, but we have a duty and an obligation to less favoured countries. On Sunday I had an experience similar to that of the hon. Member for Pollock. I took part in a discussion, during which a wise, older man present said that he would like the Government to be concerned more with the decent things in life than with building an ultra-efficient society. There is some truth in that point of view.
The Gracious Speech says that the Government
will pursue their work through the United Nations for a just and lasting peace in the Middle East.
The essence of the problem is that of non-acceptance of the State of Israel by the Arab States. All that has flowed from that non-acceptance seems to be inevitable. Any evidence of human frailty on the part of the Israelis, either by their leaders or by private citizens, is eagerly seized upon and exaggerated for purposes which have little to do with the cause of peace. The Israelis are tired of living under a magnifying glass.
There are, of course, serious problems associated with the dispute, and the refugee problem is one of them. I saw a recent report setting out the assistance received by U.N.R.R.A. from various countries, and Israel gives roughly 20 per cent. more in money terms to that organisation in helping the refugee problem than all the Arab States put together. This year Irak has given £40,415, Libya has given the same amount, Saudi Arabia £120,000, Jordan £66,000, Lebanon £20,000, Syria £35,000, making a total of £321,830. Israel's contribution was £365,758. It is interesting to note that Egypt has given nothing this year, and last year gave only £650.
A solution may well lie in the Security Council Resolution of November 1967, which could form the framework on which a solution could be erected. But that resolution is not self-implementing. It is unfair to expect Israel to comply with all its requirements and for Israel's opponents not to commit themselves to any of them. Our Government should push ahead to seek a solution to the problem on the basis of some kind of negotiations between the contending parties. The tragedy of what is happening in the Lebanon shows that the violent elements in certain societies in that part of the world are as big a threat to their own countries as to the State of Israel. If Israel did not exist, there would still be divisions. They would invent something like Israel to hate. The presence of Israel is, in fact, the only unifying factor among Arab nations in that part of the world.
We should be working hard to indicate both to the Lebanon and to Jordan that it is in their interests as well as in the interests of peace in the area to work with Israel for a solution of the problem. If the United Kingdom and also the United States were to take such a point of view it would be a great step forward in solving the problems in the area and achieving a just peace.
I should like to turn to that section of the Gracious Speech which deals with the ports since an important part of my constituency comprises the port area of the city of Glasgow. I await with great interest the Government's proposals on legislation on the ports. Those who represent constituencies such as mine remember the old chaotic conditions which applied to our ancient ports. They know about the hazards which the dockers at one time had to undergo, without hope of continuity of employment. I hope that the proposals which are to be brought forward will bring this important industry to a state in which there is much less uncertainty so that the ports can play an important part in the country's development and in the export drive.
I turn to the legislation which is envisaged to make further alterations in the administration of the National Health Service. As a doctor I know a little about health matters, and I must not become too dogmatic in what I say. The aspect of the Health Service which gives me concern is that there is no link between the various branches of the service. When the Health Service is mentioned most people think immediately of their family doctor. Political capital could be made by a party or Government which concentrated their efforts entirely on that aspect of the Health Service since it affects the majority of the people. Not many people have had operations or have even visited many hospitals, but everyone has visited or has been visited by the family doctor.
What disturbs me is the conditions in which doctors must practise their profession. In many areas they practise medicine almost entirely in isolation from their colleagues in hospitals and in the local authorities. There are no links between the family doctor, the medical officer of health and the hospital doctor. When a patient is referred to hospital and later admitted, that is the last the family doctor hears about that patient until three or four weeks after the patient is discharged, when the family doctor receives a letter stating the diagnosis and treatment. This is wrong. The family doctor should be brought into the treatment of a patient regardless of where he is treated. If the local authority services are being used, the medical officer of health or his assistant should be in contact with the family doctor about what is being done. If the patient is in hospital the doctors providing the services should be in touch with the family doctor and so bring him into the discussion of the patient's illness, treatment and disposal. Only the family doctor can give the other experts details of the patient's environment. I look forward with interest to the proposals for further changes in the administration of the Health Service.
There are many other points in the Gracious Speech to which one takes no exception. There are areas where there could have been a more explicit development of the subjects mentioned. However, on several occasions yesterday and today we have heard that in general it is a package of which we can approve, and it is upon that approval that the Government will seize.
In his concluding words, the hon. Member for Glasgow, Kelvingrove (Dr. Miller) made a noble attempt to be kind and reasonably expansive about the Gracious Speech. But even his skill was hard put to it to raise more than a faint cheer for it. It is a solid recommendation for four-year Parliaments. At this stage this Government have completely run out of any new ideas to produce in this autumn's Gracious Speech. As my right hon. Friend said yesterday, practically everything in it either has been presented before and has not yet seen the light of day because it has come to grief in the course of the dubious Parliamentary exigencies gone through by the Government, or it has been so long expected and demanded that no one can be surprised that at least it has got to the stage of a pious hope.
I was interested in a number of the subjects covered by the hon. Gentleman. His moderate remarks about the situation in Ulster deserved attention, although I did not agree with all that he said. My eyebrows raised a little, for example, at the horror which he registered at finding someone gerrymandering the political boundaries there. I hope that he will carry his horror as close to home as his own constituency, where the boundaries should be redrawn in the interests of fairness to the electors. I hope, too, that he can be counted among those who are embarrassed by and dissatisfied with the Government's squalid treatment of the Boundary Commission Report and will not support the Patronage Secretary when the strange manoeuvre of laying Orders takes place, as it must do before very long.
I agree with many of his remarks about Glasgow's housing difficulties. I hope that the members of the Labour Group from Glasgow City Council have learned more in their time out of office than the hon. Gentleman has about the true facts of life and the causes of Glasgow's housing problems. There was no mention in his speech of the years of neglect of older properties which have been allowed to decay round about the population of the city, who are still struggling to build houses, but allowing others to decay.
Because not enough money came in to those owning and managing them, even the most optimistic could not think of keeping up repairs. Anyone who doubts that has only to look at the obvious fact that most of the rents being brought in by some of those properties have been nothing like sufficient to do a simple roof repair in a year, let alone keep up the properties or improve them.
It is also the case that a large number of others could have been saved and could now be well-equipped, sound houses if action had been taken to put them right 10, 20 or 30 years ago.
The hon. Member for Kelvingrove also said what a pity it was that there were not more houses for sale in Glasgow. Today, of course, there is practically no room in Glasgow to build them. In any event, who is encouraged to buy such a house at the high price that he will have to pay when, if he is prepared to wait long enough, he has an opportunity to get a house for a rent which is far below any sort of economic value?
The hon. Gentleman then said about private house building that it was desirable for local authorities to give more 100 per cent. mortgages. I could not agree more. But who makes that difficult? The local authorities are not reluctant to give such mortgages. The reason why they cannot do it is that they are allowed the finance by St. Andrew's House to provide mortgages for those who want them. One must also take into account the fact that even those who took on mortgages three or four years ago now find that interest rates are becoming an ever-increasing burden. Obviously no one can be pleased about that. but it must be realised that it is one of the consequences of five years of disastrous economic management.
I want to turn now to one or two other matters, some of which are not mentioned in the Gracious Speech. We have a reference to proposals being brought forward for the reform of local government. This presumably means a White Paper, which the Secretary of State for Scotland has promised, giving his views following publication of the Wheatley Report. I entirely agree with that and look forward to receiving the White Paper. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will do everything that he can to make sure that all the local authorities get as much time as possible to express their views on it. Like the Secretary of State, I should not wish this to drag on for too long, but all must have a full opportunity to express their views because large and complicated issues are involved.
However, I must, ask one question, and I ask my hon. Friends representing Scottish constituencies to consider this point very carefully. Are we wise to carry on with local government reform while neglecting completely what I regard as the fundamental aspect of the whole matter, namely, finance? I have found in discussions with all kinds of people, following publication of the Wheatley Report, many differing views, but they all come back to finance. Everyone who is asked to give a view wants to know what the likely new financial basis for local authorities will be. Everyone wants to know whether they will be joined with larger authorities outside and what this will mean in terms of finance. They want to know whether they will lose their identity, as many small authorities have. Much as many people regret it, this is probably inevitable, but if they are to lose their identity they must have some idea of the sort of financial pig-in-a-poke that they will be accepting.
I strongly urge the setting up now of a study group or a small committee or commission to start the calculations and to consider the pros and cons of local government finance in future. This will be a long job. Nobody could do it in a few months. But why must we lose at least, I should think, six to nine months of further time trying to get consideration of new methods of finance, etc. off the ground? It would not inhibit present considerations. It would not prevent the Secretary of State publishing his White Paper giving details of his views next April. I wonder whether the right hon. Member for Manchester, Cheetham (Mr. Harold Lever), who is happily sitting on the Government Front Bench, would consider that the Treasury, which would obviously have a large say in any consideration of new methods of local government finance, would not welcome the setting up of a study group now to start these considerations.
Until a moment ago, the hon. Member for Ayr was talking about the high rates of interest. He seemed to think that these were due to this Government. Since he knows so much about the financial side, perhaps he will explain how the Government have managed to raise the rates of interest in America, Germany, and every other country. If he knows so much about it, can he not solve this problem himself?
The right hon. Gentleman is always a beguiling interrupter in debates. If I rose to his bait he would start me off on at least a 45-minute dissertation on international finance. I have no intention of entering into that subject. If the right hon. Gentleman honestly believes that this Government have no responsibility for the fantastically high interest rates that we have had for the past five years—the highest rates ever in our history—then he is living in a different world from the other 50 million in these islands.
I apologise to the right hon. Member for Cheetham for having got his appointment wrong. All I can say is that the Ministry of Technology's gain is very much the Treasury's loss.
There are various other items in the Gracious Speech which require more said about them. We are told at the bottom of page 2 of the printed Speech that the Government
will continue to develop policies for promoting the efficiency and competitiveness of industry.
That is a splendid phrase which somebody must have been very happy to think up to put in the Gracious Speech. But what does it mean? What have this Government really done which affects the man who works in industry to earn his daily bread or the man who tries to run a business?
Anyone with business connections, large or small, but particularly small, knows that the history of the last five years has been of increasing involvement in bureaucracy, form filling and new taxes throughout the whole of industry. If anyone thinks that this is just the extravagance of someone making a speech in the House of Commons, I beg him to speak to any industrialist, large or small, in his own constituency—
Would the hon. Member for Ayr look at the reports in today's newspapers—perhaps the Financial Times—revealing how internationally competitive our shipbuilding industry has been as a result of the intervention of my right hon. Friend's new Ministry? Will he not pay some acknowledgement, even in the area which he represents, to the effect that his has has on the Clyde and the west of Scotland?
Concerning competitiveness in the shipbuilding industry, there have been many difficult events over the last few years and it is too early yet to say what the results are. I only hope, as does the hon. Member for Caithness and Sutherland (Mr. Maclennan), that they will be happy. If the hon. Gentleman visits my constituency he will find businessman after businessman at his wits end trying to master all the new taxes, regulations, etc., which have emanated from this Government. I am sorry that this is in conflict with the intentions outlined in Queen's Speech, but the Government will have to tackle the whole business of reforming the tax system completely before they will gain the confidence of businessman that they will improve efficiency in industry.
Does the hon. Gentleman agree that over the past 100 years and more this country has been run by businessmen, not Governments? For example, Governments have had very little to do with the efficiency with which industry has functioned. Does the hon. Gentleman agree that on almost virtually every count over these years this country has remained at the bottom of every league whereby one country's efficiency is measured against another?
The hon. Member for Motherwell (Mr. Lawson) has a different view of history from mine. As he said, for centuries this country has been built on the fundamental mainspring of private enterprise running businesses throughout the country. All I can say is that during all the centuries that this country has existed we have never before had five such disastrous years of deficit, and so on, as we have had while this Government have been in power. Surely it cannot be just a coincidence that it is in these five years that there has been the most massive injection of Government interference in industry, starting with the well-intentioned National Plan of the right hon. Member for Belper (Mr. George Brown), a plan which was to be the blueprint at which every industry was to aim, and going on to the Minister of Technology who has been trying to help industries all over the place, with more success in some cases than in others. It is during these five years that the Government have moved into industry. Is the hon. Member for Motherwell (Mr. Lawson) going to say that these five years are the most successful that British industry has had in the last few hundred years? The answer is that of course he is not.
There is at least a case to be made that it is this interference by the Government which has caused more problems than it has solved. It is vitally important that the Government should realise this before it is too late, and before we embark, heaven forbid, on the next National Plan and another list of targets which no one will even remember for each industry.
I do not want to spend too much time addressing the House, but there are three other things that I must mention, still in connection with industry. The Gracious Speech contains a proposal for the nationalisation of the ports. No one would expect me to be a great supporter of nationalisation, and nor am I. I have always considered that there never was a case for nationalisation, as a theory, and as an idea, which justified the extreme step of taking industries into public ownership.
Of all the proposals to nationalise, the nationalisation of the ports is just about the most crazy. The Scottish ports are already publicly-owed, and there is therefore no question of ownership. Because the Clyde Port Authority is a public body, the Government are easily able to get their way in respect of any item that they want, or anything that they want done, or not done, by that authority. And even if the Government did not have that power, such is the co-operation and excellence of the management of that authority that they would not have any difficulty anyway.
I ask hon. Gentlemen opposite to search their souls and to throw away Clause 4. What will we gain by having control of the ports in Scotland moved to a central national headquarters, be it in London or anywhere else? What gain will there be by the management of the Clyde or the Forth having to refer matters elsewhere to enable major decisions to be taken affecting Scotland? I cannot think of any advantage of any kind.
I am sure that hon. Gentlemen opposite have open minds on these things when they really get down to them. I ask them to consider whether it is worth chopping up and re-hashing all the port facilities to enable them to write another line to the chapter on nationalisation. I beg the Government to reconsider this. I beg them to leave the ports as they are, under public ownership. I do not think that anybody disputes the need for that, but let us not have nationalisation regardless of the needs of the ports, and regardless of the wishes of those who use them, who work in them, and who have anything at all to do with them.
Last week there was a lot of talk from hon. Members on both sides about the need—happily resolved now—for the headquarters of the General Products Division of the British Steel Corporation to be sited in Glasgow. I am grateful to the Minister of Technology for the speed with which he considered this and produced such a clear statement on what was to be done at the end of the day.
That brings me to a most important point which I should like people who are considering the development of Scotland to bear in mind. It is desperately important for us to have headquarters-type jobs in Scotland, and in other parts of the United Kingdom too, because, unless we make a conscious effort to get the headquarters of organisations or industries sited away from the South-East, we shall find, as we are finding now, that the people who make the top decisions are not in the various regions making their contribution to the life and general well-being of the community.
A few months ago there was an interesting report by the Scottish Council which pinpointed the serious problem arising from the inexorable pull, due to mergers, nationalisation, and other things, of headquarters staffs, the top management, from the outer regions to the great central magnet. It is important that those who have at heart the wish of the Government as expressed in the Gracious Speech should make the fullest use of the resources of the regions.
I welcome the statement in the Gracious Speech that there is to be legislation to introduce a new form of organisation, or new form of airline, to run the Scottish air services in the Highlands.
I look forward to seeing the form which this new legislation will take and the form of the new company—which I understand will follow the recommendations of the Edwards Committee—for the running of these services. I shall look with great optimism to this new form of organisation, provided it gives a really new look to our air services in the remoter areas. There is nothing more important than a flexible form of organisation for air services in these areas, because traffic between small towns and communities all over the Highlands needs a flexible view of its organisation if it is to be developed as quickly as possible.
The Gracious Speech leaves more gaps to be filled than it should. After all these years, and after so many failures in what they tried to do last Session, the Government should have produced something with more imagination—something more forward-looking, with new initiatives and new policies. I hope that this will be the last Gracious Speech from a Labour Government, because it is clear that what we need above everything else is a change, and some new ideas.
I congratulate the hon. Member for Ayr (Mr. Younger). He made a rather superficial speech but it achieved the objective of time occupation. He performed both functions with a smile on his face, and to that extent I congratulate him. It was quite unconvincing. This debate on the Gracious Speech has followed the usual pattern though but I want to point to one regrettable feature. A columnist in one of our Sunday newspapers—I believe it was a Sunday newspaper—raised a red herring about the trade figures. It seemed a rather small and niggling point, but the right hon. Member for Altrincham and Sale (Mr. Barber) followed it up, and the right hon. Member for Enfield, West (Mr. Iain Macleod) has put another gloss on it. Then, today, net only did the right hon. Member for Altrincham and Sale return to it but the Leader of the Opposition also raised it.
All who prefer to have an honest and open debate will regret the fact that the debate between the two major parties on the important issue of our trade problems should be soured by this mean and paltry contribution, for purely party ends. I regret it very much. I have sat in this House for five years under a Tory Government. The Opposition in those days did not attack things of that kind. To my mind the kind of complaint which is now made could just as well have been made then. One accepted the limitations.
I want to refer to a problem that has existed for the last 10 years and doubtless will continue to exist for the next 10 years. Our society will be concentrating on producing more and more goods and more and more affluence. There comes a time when, in the production of this additional wealth and additional opportunities, the question arises whether the basic values are being disturbed.
Over a period of time any society which is making immense steps forward, and I specifically said over the last and the next ten years, will need to adjust our basic values to the problems we are creating. There has recently been a debate about the permissive society and one of my right hon. Friends referred to it as being more civilised. I beg to differ. If in a world of increasing prosperity, when we have access to all sorts of marvellous things once denied to the working class, we lose some of the basic standards that helped to make us great in the past then we are in trouble.
A lot of the teenage hooliganism can be traced to what has been happening. If every evening in our homes we see on television the worst of crime, sex and sometimes obscenity how can we keep our children to the correct values in life? Can we be surprised if many of them fall? We can gather all the prosperity we want, but if we fail to appreciate that normal moral standards have to be upheld, then we are lost.
The B.B.C. has a large measure of responsibility in this. Anyone involved with youth clubs and who has seen these problems knows that we must look to the communications media, particularly television for the causes. If this sort of thing is broadcast daily to the young generation then it is those who broadcast it who must bear the consequences.
Much that is missing from the Gracious Speech will set the environment in which our young men and women will be deciding the kind of Government they want.
My hon. Friend is talking about the permissive and what is missing from the Gracious Speech. Is he aware that a great deal of permissive legislation went through this House in the last Session which was not mentioned in the Gracious Speech.
I recognise that a great deal of legislation has been produced in the form of Private Members' Bills. There are many people, working-class more than middle-class, who do not want to lose the major virtues of our society. It will be disastrous if we do so.
There are two central economic problems facing us and I am glad that on the Government Front Bench there are two experts, both of whom know that I am not a financial expert. If my Government continues to peg the British sterling system to the American dollar, and therefore to gold it remains a dangerous move. Over a period of time we should move towards a free valuation and a free market, as the Germans have done with the Mark. How can any metal at any time be the measure of the growing wealth of the world? It is impossible.
Moreover, being in the sterling area, the health and virility of this country is influenced, for good or bad, by other members of the sterling area. Whether the Conservative Party or the Labour Party is in office, I want our viability in the world to rest on our performance and not on the price of rubber or tin in the Malaya or the various machinations across the sterling area or other areas. We must come to an equation in the world in which our credit internationally can be weighed in the way that people weigh credit in ordinary life. To continue to hitch ourselves to a metallic standard is as false now as it was when we went back to it in 1926.
The second economic aspect is the problem of the organisation of the two sides of industry. During the last 12 months there have been a lot of growing pains in the trade unions. There has been the problem of deciding how we could bring them in an orderly way to accept the idea of an expanding national cake and their getting their share. But the problem is just as difficult in management, where there are many fragmented organisations sometimes able and sometimes unable to speak for management. Do we want a Maud report, as it were, on the proper relations on both sides of industry which in a grown-up sense will be able to negotiate the problems in the knowledge that the national well-being is perhaps overwhelming? We must stop the kind of thinking which has gone on on the last 12 months.
I turn with a little regret to a constituency matter. What is happening in my town is happening across Britain. The Opposition must ask themselves some serious questions. There are 15 or 20 towns in this country with an undue proportion of unfit, or slum houses. Unfortunately, my town is one of them. The reasons are historic. The wealth of this country would not have been what it is without those 20, 30 or 40 towns of the Industrial Revolution. At one time we had in our area over 20,000 unfit houses. We have cleared 10,000 of them. We lifted our rate of dealing with unfit houses to 1,000 a year. We were replacing them with 800 new units a year.
What has happened in the last few months? Despite the fact that places like Oldham and Liverpool have the greatest housing ulcers in the country, the Conservative Party has decided that the rate of progress should be not 1,000 unfit houses dealt with in a year but just over 400. The number of new dwellings is to come down to under 400, and yet we still have 10,000 to 12,000 condemned and unfit houses. In addition, we started a programme to deal with substandard houses, but that has gone much the same way of the rest of the council programme.
To make the situation worse we had small areas of land on which to house the overspill population, but that also is to go. Yet in the old town of Oldham there are still 12,000 unfit houses. Apparently the party opposite is to allow its local representatives to go on with this kind of thing. No wonder the Minister asks to see them. On behalf of the council, I had seen the Minister to discuss what can be done. It will cause damage beyond repair if in the few towns where this ulcer is acute we cannot find ways and means of doing two things. One of them is to get a much faster rate of output by the existing council, or to replace it—which probably is on the way—and the second is some additional finance to meet interim financial problems.
Oldham is the third highest-rated borough in the country. Probably in welfare services and services for the handicapped we are one of the finest in the country, and we are proud of that. Nevertheless, when there are unfit houses running into five figures and a population of 110,000, we have to look to the Government to afford some real aid to a town which is still losing 900 people a year by emigration.
I have acted with my colleagues in the North-West in a collective effort to solve some of the North-West problems. One becomes attached to an area and thinks of its history. One recalls the proposals made by the Hunt Committee. The Front Bench has been selective over these proposals, particularly with reference to the intermediate areas. If the Front Bench is to be selective and to pick out pockets for assistance, the Government should provide hon. Members with data to justify the selection of those pockets in terms of emigration and the other data in the Hunt Report, otherwise it leaves me totally unconvinced.
I am not contracting out for a moment from the obligation to try to help constructively development areas, but I think of the area south of Merseyside and in north Cheshire where the oil and chemicals industries still get all the inducements which one would have hoped would go in the main to the old coal-mining areas such as Durham, and so on. Ellesmere Port and such places are areas of growth with high wages where industrial firms need no Government assistance to maintain or establish their concerns. There are other firms in Lancashire—and one can think of an example in St. Helens and a large firm in the North-East—which, like I.C.I., cannot be moved, and incentives have no effect on firms of that size.
The other day the Prime Minister spoke about environment, a word which has been written in the hearts of people like myself for a long time. Two-thirds of our problem in the North-West is concerned with environment, and the character of living. This is not just a matter of unfit houses. It includes derelict factories and other eyesores. If the Government mean business about the environment of living, now is their chance to apply their policy across these old industrial areas, where we in Oldham in particular would qualify.
The hon. Member for Oldham, East (Mr. Mapp) said many things, particularly at the beginning of his speech, which would find an echo on this side of the House, especially what he said about the quality of some radio and television programmes.
It now falls to me, I regret to say in my 63rd year, to respond to this general debate on the Gracious Speech from the Throne. I could not help reflecting, as I stood at the Bar behind the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition, that this was my 31st King's or Queen's Speech and my 25th, at least, since the war, a melancholy reflection. I have heard it from both ends of the Chamber. I have even carried the Sword of State and that curious bauble called the Cap of Maintenance. I like the pageantry; I like the tradition; and I like the colour. Now that colour television is available, I wish that the scene could be televised year by year and not only occasionally as it has been until recently.
But as I reflected on this as upon the previous 30 which I have heard, I could not help thinking that, like all the others, it was a plate of cold porridge. By what quirk of democracy Her Majesty's dutiful and loyal subjects present for the mastication of their Sovereign year by year, interspersed between routine references to projected royal visits and conventionally pious invocations to the Almighty, a dreary recitation of proposed Bills and White Papers, the contents of which are seldom disclosed in full, is something which absolutely passes the imagination.
The first thing I would say to the Government is that all Queen's Speeches need to be jazzed up a bit. They will not last much longer if they are not. We who are responsible for Parliamentary democracy in this country are missing a tremendous opportunity for cheering things up. The recitation of the Government's coming programme ought to be relegated to some sort of White Paper, or Green Paper, or Red Paper.
On the occasion of the Queen's Speech, the hereditary Head of State of this country addresses all the ambassadors of the world in front of her—and the British people if we had it televised directly—and yet we take the opportunity to put before her a mess of nonsense which any one of us as experienced politicians would throw out if it were offered to us to recite. Why cannot we say something meaningful to the world in the Queen's Speech? Why cannot we offer some message of hope to the country?
I do not believe that it is beyond the wit of man to use this great opportunity in national and world public relatians not simply for party purposes, because it manifestly fails at that object whichever party is in power, but for some real means of popularising and making intelligible the great democratic policies of the nation. That is something which the Government and my hon. Friends would do well to reflect on because, frankly, I do not believe that this is a tradition which, although it has the means of improvement within it, can last much longer in its present dreary form.
Such as it is, we have now to answer it. I do not want to say much about yesterday's debate, which drizzled on to its inevitable end without any form of winding up. However, I inform the Prime Minister that we really are in for a dreadfully dull Session, one of the most boring in the history of mankind—that is, as much of it as the Prime Minister will allow us to enjoy or endure—if all that we shall do is recite the preliminary drafts of our election platform speeches, such as the right hon. Gentleman endeavoured to do yesterday. I trust that his will not be a precedent for future speeches this Session.
There was a part of the Prime Minister's speech to which I must draw attention, for it added a new dimension of horror in Parliamentary polemics. I contend that platform oratory, for which this House is ill adapted, was taken a step further when the right hon. Gentleman inflicted on us about five minutes of Peregrine Worsthorne in the Spectator. That was entering the field of biological and chemical warfare, and I seriously warn the Prime Minister that if he does it again I shall certainly retaliate.
I am not without the means to retaliate, for I have a secret weapon with a megaton warhead and a second strike capacity. It is entitled "Party Games by Christopher Mayhew ", and there is every bit as much nonsense written about the Labour Party in its 175 pages as ever Peregrine Worsthorne could insert in 40 issues of the Spectator. I therefore warn the Prime Minister that if we have more of this nonsense from him I shall retaliate severely. Tonight, however, I will content myself with reading only the first sentence, which goes:
To hell with politics. Why don't we give up?
But now I must adopt a more sober rôle and approach the Home Secretary with some severe words of caution. The right hon. Gentleman always makes careful speeches, but I thought that his hon. Friend the Member for Coventry, North (Mr. Edelman) rather exaggerated the case when he called the right hon. Gentleman's speech "superb ". It hardly deserved such an encomium.
I wish to twit him with an inconsistency to which my hon. Friend the Member for Runcorn (Mr. Carlisle) referred. It was surely a little odd that, having teased my right hon. Friend the Member for Altrincham and Sale (Mr. Barber) for not having referred to the Queen's Speech enough in his remarks, the Home Secretary delivered himself of a homily of 61 minutes, of which only 10 minutes bore any resemblance to the Gracious Speech and its contents. This is something which he must look at—the inner coherence and consistency of his utterances.
The Home Secretary, in the course of his irrelevancies, made an attack on various London boroughs. I quite understand that this was not entirely his fault, because the housing Minister is engaged upon a large and disreputable operation, the main object of which is to off-load his own housing failure on to Conservative local authorities. We must investigate this matter more fully next week during the debates on the Amendments. But, meantime, I made inquiries of my hon. Friend the Member for Harrow, Central (Mr. Grant) since his was the first of the local authorities singled out by the Secretary of State for special mention. I understand from my hon. Friend that the following facts have been sent to the Home Secretary for his consideration. My hon. Friend says:
I have checked the facts with the Council and these reveal that your criticism was entirely unjustified. In the four years to the end of 1970 the Harrow Borough Council will have increased its stock of houses by approximately 12½ per cent., even allowing for the 130 houses that have been sold (which after all are still providing accommodation). The Council completed 359 dwellings in 1967 and 1968 and now has 458 under construction which are expected to be completed in 1970. On 15th October the architect wrote to the Minister of Housing and Local Government telling him that the Council proposed to start another 123 houses early in 1970. This makes the allegation in the Minister's letter to the Mayor of 23rd October"—
which is that upon which the right hon. Gentleman founded his criticism—"that Harrow had no programme for next year strange reading". After another paragraph with which I shall not trouble the House, my hon. Friend ends his letter to the Home Secretary by saying that no doubt he will
wish to make a personal statement at the earliest possible moment to correct the misleading impression you gave to the House".
I hope that the Home Secretary will consider this request tomorrow most carefully. These corrections, which the right hon. Gentleman makes from time to time and which the House always accepts with its usual generosity, are becoming depressingly frequent. I hope that he will not embark in future upon slandering local authorities without more careful research of a personal character.
Unlike most speakers who have addressed the House, I turn to the content of the Gracious Speech. I want to say how much I was reminded of the Gracious Speech when I entered a restaurant recently and there was the usual choice of peptonised, packaged, frozen, dehydrated and battery-fed foods. I felt inclined to say, "Why do you not serve something fresh?" This is my basic objection to the Gracious Speech: why do the Government not serve something fresh?
I want to deal with the matter not so much in detail as under two or three main heads, because it is the failure to provide any constructive thinking to handle the country's problems which is at the root of the present disillusionment.
From the beginning of the debate, there have been references to cynicism and to disillusionment with our democratic processes and institutions. The mover of the Loyal Address, the hon. Member for Berwick and East Lothian (Mr. Mackintosh), made a reference to this in his excellent speech at the start. There are people who think that politicians have a double dose of original sin, and some—though not I, of course—have a double dose of original sin. But I submit that part of the disillusionment is due to the over-centralisation which now exists in the main structure of our Government.
For many generations, this country has enjoyed the benefits of central control, but, as government became more sophisticated, the country has, in my view, gone beyond the optimum level at which it can be controlled centrally. This is true of Parliament. When we discuss Scottish nationalism or Welsh nationalism, we have to face the complaint that Scottish affairs and Welsh affairs are not adequately considered in depth. But it is true also of English affairs.
I give only one example which happens to be one in which the right hon. Gentleman and I were both concerned, the Race Relations Bill last Session. If that Bill had come on for Second Reading in the time of Mr. Gladstone, the Second Reading debate would have taken about three weeks, and the Bill would then have gone to a Committee of the whole House. It would then have been discussed on Report and on Third Reading. Everybody who wanted to speak—and many who ought not to have spoken—would have taken the time of the House in discussing the matter at length. If the Bill had come in in 1938, when I first came to the House, it would have been given three days for Second Reading. The Committee and Report stages would have been taken separately, and then there would have been Third Reading. It would have gone to a Committee of the whole House, and, again, most hon. Members who wanted to speak would have had opportunity to do so.
What happened in practice to a Bill of that magnitude? The first two speeches, the right hon. Gentleman's and mine, took about 45 minutes each, and last two speeches about half an hour each. We started at 4 o'clock and we finished at 10. Every other hon. Member who wished to speak on Second Reading had to pack his contribution in within that sandwich. The Bill went to a Committee of 20 or 25–1 forget the exact number—and the Report and Third Reading took place during the whole of one night. That is not Parliamentary discussion.
Looking at the whole structure of Whitehall, one sees the same process of centralisation at work. People have mistaken centralisation for efficiency, and at a point at which the central Government has ceased to be of the optimum size for centralisation. If one looks, for instance, at the problem of industrial relations, which the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition discussed in a different context yesterday, one sees that the whole of industry and the whole of the trade union movement take on their colour from this over-centralised pattern. The Coal Board is at Hobart House. The Steel Board is a few doors up the same street. In no other country is this true. It is not given us by God. It is not written in the laws of the Medes and Persians that is should be so. Almost all the great governmental institutions are over-centralised. All the free associations of this country, from the Boy Scouts to the Football Association, are decentralised by regions because they follow the natural pattern of organisation.
When I went to the North-East some years ago, what appalled me most was not on the great number of local authorities but their total incapacity to think regionally. When they did want to discuss matters with Whitehall, each separate department of each separate local authority—the local education committee, the highways committee and the rest—went up to a separate Ministry in Whitehall, and there was no dealing between them and the other Ministries. Surely this ought to mean something to us when we are discussing the basic question of why people are disillusioned with Parliamentary government.
But how does the Queen's Speech measure up to it? The Leader of the Liberal Party touched on this subject in a speech which was very interesting to me. Take the proposals with regard to local government, the content of which we know nothing. One can understand, of course, that the Redcliffe-Maud Committee itself was quite unable to handle the basic problem of devolving from the central Government to the local government, and the result has been that the whole discussion of its proposals has been obscured and distorted by criticism that it is taking away from small local authorities the little amount of independence which they have to give it to larger local authorities. Or take the docks proposal. As my hon. Friend the Member for Ayr (Mr. Younger) pointed out a few moments ago, it is not a question of public ownership versus private ownership because many of the docks are publicly owned, but the Government propose to centralise again. Or take the latest Cabinet reshuffle, these gigantic super Ministries, administrative beehives. What I would like to see is first-class inspectorates inspecting the work of regional or local government, but leaving it to carry on its own tasks efficiently.
Or take the education Bill which is promised—not a Bill to create a single new place in a single new school or a single new teacher, but a Bill to take away from local authorities such freedom as they possess under the structure of education. Now there are two quite separate issues here, and I hope both of them will be discussed. One, of course, is the value of comprehensive education as a structure. With great respect to those who have taken part in it, including myself, I do not think that that debate has ever been properly deployed in this House, if I can remember; but the point I am on at the moment has nothing to do with the actual benefits or otherwise of the comprehensive system. It has to do with the right of a local authority to decide its own structure, provided it reaches adequate academic standards.
I must, in passing, completely contradict what was said by the Prime Minister in his speech, which was to the effect that Conservative Ministers of Education interfered with secondary organisation on comprehensive lines by local authorities. I know that was not the policy of my colleagues, and I know it was not my policy. I interfered with only one comprehensive scheme that I can remember, and it was one from Flintshire, but I did it at the invitation not only of my right hon.Friend the Member for Flint, West (Mr. Birch), one Member for Flintshire, but of the hon. Lady the Member for Flint, East (Mrs. White), and that was one in which a director of education had obviously overstepped the mark of what was reasonable. In each case I incurred, and my colleagues incurred, criticism from our Conservative local authorities, when we allowed Socialist schemes of comprehensive education to go forward because we deliberately would not substitute our judgment of what was best in a locality for the local authority's judgment of what was best in the locality. All we felt we were entitled to do was to act as a kind of supervisory authority and interfere where the schemes did not make sense
Or look at the administration of the Health Service, to which I will come in a moment in another part of what I want to say. There are proposals for that in the Queen's Speech, but what hope does it offer that it will be decentralised, or of hospitals brought into the general ambit of regional planning and government? None that I know.
I could develop this theme at much greater length, but I want instead to go on a parallel tack and discuss the finance of our social services, because this is very closely related to my first point. When the social services were introduced—and I am old enough to remember them coming in at the beginning of the Attlee Government, and even their being discussed in the 1944 White Paper—we who discussed them, on both sides of the House, and Beveridge, who devised the basic structure, were all guilty of a common mistake. If we examine our structure of social services, by which I mean the health service and the pension service—not education or housing—and compare it with, for instance, the European models, the striking factor that we observe at once is that whereas the European models have benefits as great as, or sometimes greater than, our own, ours are based on a different financial structure. Whereas, for instance, a greater proportion of the national product is spent on health in many of the European countries, ours is the only country which depends solely on finance from the taxpayer.
This is no accident. In 1942, and in 1944, when we were examining the structure of these services we proceeded on the basis that unemployment after the war would be 10 per cent. or more, and we put a great proportion of the finance on the taxpayer precisely to make up for the deficiencies of under-employment as a factor affecting wages. But this assumption has in the main proved false and it has had two extremely deleterous effects.
The first is that until comparatively recently, when Conservative criticism was brought to bear on it, the assumption was constantly made that to benefit anybody under the social services we had to benefit everybody; that benefits had to be universal. I can remember having two tremendous battles in the Attlee Parliament on this subject. The result has been that from the first the health service and the sickness benefits have suffered from the defect which was rather movingly described this afternoon by the hon. Member for Bedwellty (Mr. Finch). Certain people, such as the industrially injured, are given a privileged position, but if a man loses a leg his needs are the same whether he suffers as a result of an accident or a war wound or is injured in a coalmine. The chronic sick and the chronic handicapped, have never been sufficiently helped, because we have always assumed that to spread the butter at all we must spread it evenly over the slice of bread and not concentrate it in the places where it is needed.
The second further result has been that we have assumed, unlike other services in other countries which are as generous or more generous, that we must at all costs try to exclude private finance. The truth is that, side by side with the National Health Service, organisations like B.U.P.A. have been growing up simply under the pressure of social need; occupational pension schemes have been growing up precisely under the pressure of social need. What does the Queen's Speech do about it? We think that it is intended to throttle this kind of movement; it certainly does not intend to encourage it. But if we want to bring into use services as generous as are now being enjoyed by the developed democracies abroad, we must bring in other sources of financing.
I want just to add a third theme on the subject of the structure of taxation. We all know that one of the endemic troubles of our fully employed society—if when we have 500,000 unemployed we can say that it is fully employed—is inflation. We are living under a system in which consumer demand is encouraged by every possible means, including in the last 13 years the extraordinary powerful instrument of commercial television.
What are we to do about that? I am not of the opinion held by the author, of my secret weapon that advertisement is something inherently wicked, like adultery. I consider that the right thing to do is to make sure that, instead of remaining a spending society, we ought to become an investing society. This covers the entire field of both public and private spending. Instead of taxes on income, we ought to indulge in increased taxes on expenditure. What does the Gracious Speech offer about that?
I must at this late hour indulge my little bit of party politics. This is the moment when hon. Members opposite must just hold on. We hear a great deal nowadays from the Prime Minister about idealism. Five years ago it was pragmatism. Now it is idealism. Idealism is all very well but to me it means keeping one's promises. We remember the prospectus "Let's go with Labour". Well, they did not say where. We know now.
What it meant to the average elector—certainly the electors with whom I came into contact—was that there would be a great new crop of houses, roads, hospitals, schools and the like. Of course, they were going to kill the nuclear bomb and increase our conventional forces—at least when they were speaking at Chatham. As a matter of fact, they almost destroyed our conventional forces and kept the nuclear bomb!
Then, as a solemn pledge, there were to be 500,000 houses a year. If they want 500,000 houses a year, why did they throw away the Milner Holland Report, after having extracted the maximum juice out of its class-conscious effect. It contained certain recommendations which have been cast aside. One has no hope of attaining 500,000 houses if one ignores the factor of private finance in addition to public finance. At any rate 500,000 houses were not forthcoming. The 3 per cent. mortgage was a barren promise atoned for in the pulpit of St. Mary-le-Bow by a right hon. Gentleman wearing sackcloth and ashes. The soul loveth a cheerful sinner.
Where is all the idealism in this? We all know that they were to put an end to "stop and go". They have kept half of that promise. The trouble is that they have kept the wrong half. Where is the idealism in breaking one's promises? It was all to be done without any pain to anybody. The hungry were to be filled with good things. And even the rich were not to be sent empty away, thereby vastly improving on the Magnificat because—and here I quote the words of the inspired text—there was to be no general increase in taxation.
Now, in the miserable fag-end of this Parliament, we are to spend our time voting against Orders which the Home Secretary himself has laid. I only want to know how much he has had to pay Mr. McWhirter by way of costs.
The right hon. and learned Member for St. Marylebone (Mr. Hogg) has obviously enjoyed his speech—[HON. MEMBERS: "So have we."] I think that we all have, and it was inevitable, if only for form's sake, that there should be some reference to the impending election and the boundary frictions which have occurred.
I cannot help noticing that the less the possibility of an election the greater was the Tory passion in demanding it. Right hon. and hon. Gentlemen opposite were rather like people pushing bravely at a door in the confident knowledge that it was locked. Now that there is a reasonable possibility that the key might be turned—[HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] Well, we are moving into that area—[An HON. MEMBER: "The truth will out."]—I notice that the passionate, angry crescendo of the demand for resort to the electoral decision has changed to good-natured diminuendo as time goes on. In their demand for an urgent electoral decision in the past, repeated with diminishing fervour as the election date approaches, right hon. and hon. Gentlemen opposite remind me of the famous Truman bon mot when he talked of the amateurism of those who are hellbent on getting into gaol instead of waiting for the sheriff to come and get them. Right hon. and hon. Gentlemen should calm their impatience a little. Justice is on its way. They do not have to get into a state of great excitement about it.
Not only does the right hon. and learned Member for St. Marylebone enjoy his good-natured winding up speeches in this House. He appears to enjoy writing rather less good-natured and less well-balanced articles for the Sunday Express—
As my right hon. Friend points out, they are better paid. The right hon. and learned Gentleman also contributed an article which appeared in the same edition of the Sunday Express in which he said:
The next election may be our last chance for preserving parliamentary democracy.
A closer investigation of his views revealed that the chance coincided with the necessity for re-electing him to Government office, together with some of his right hon. Friends, which seemed to indicate that democracy in this land was in a rather more precarious condition than many of us supposed.
He adverted to a matter which has became very much discussed in this debate, namely, the state of our balance of payments and the economic situation of the country. They form the background against which the whole of the Gracious Speech is framed and, naturally, they have excited a good deal of attention.
The first matter which comes to mind is the immensely pleasing recent statistics on our balance of payments of the last two months. They have been described accurately by the right hon. Member for Altrincham and Sale (Mr. Barber) as being excellent. On the other hand, the welcome given in this House to those figures appears to have been somewhat different in character from public pronouncements by the right hon. Member for Enfield, West (Mr. Iain Macleod), the right hon. Member for Altrincham and Sale and the right hon. and learned and good-natured Member for St. Marylebone—
I hear a call from an hon. Member opposite wondering whether the figures are true. In the article in which the right hon. and learned Gentleman sets out his views of the dangers of the Labour Party winning the election, he says:
The effect of this must clearly have worn off by the spring.…".
… the pale gleam of wintery sunshine afforded by the latest balance of payments figures.
Now it seems that the figures are partly phoney, their phoneyness
… carefully engineered by the Government machine to have a short-term publicity effect.
That is an extraordinary statement.
The right hon. and learned Gentleman, not content with trading his bad dreams, in the same newspaper, in a report of his speech to the Conservative youth at the weekend, permits himself the assertion, which his right hon. Friend was not prepared to make this afternoon, chat these figures are deceptive and engineered.
I will not deal with the details of this extraordinary allegation—
—succulent if rather ridiculous dish, elects to deal with it himself.
I must say one or two things about this assertion at this stage, although the main detail of it must be dealt with by my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer.
I am glad that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister is present, because I have often heard him suggest that Conservative Members and Leaders of the Opposition are none too pleased at this happy turn of events in our economic affairs. [Interruption.] He has never actually said that, but one has felt that he might have some lurking suspicion that there was not undisguised joy in the ranks of the Conservative Party on learning of this transformation in our affairs.
I am entirely satisfied that, in their private hearts, every Conservative Member of this House is as delighted as I am at the improved state of our economic affairs. [Interruption.] I must make it quite plain, in mitigation of my right hon. Friend's occasional indications of suspicion, that some right hon. Gentlemen seem to have dissembled their delight with considerable skill. As we get nearer the election their enthusiasm for the improving balance of payments and their reaction to it could be said to be "seasonally adjusted".
Nevertheless, I am sure that the weekend ebullience is not characteristic of the right hon. and learned Member for St. Marylebone, and it would be unfair, with his long record of distinguished and constructive public service, to hold against him the intermittent turbulence of his weekend article in contrast with the solid issues of achievement and his contributions to the House.
In passing, I must say, somewhat immodestly, that if these figures are not bogus—
If these figures are not bogus, they fit rather well with a prediction which I ventured to make in the House in July, 1968, when I predicted that the balance of payments would be transformed during the course of 1969, as indeed has proved to be the case. I should have had to be singularly Machiavellian to predict not a real improvement which was to come, of which there was ample evidence for those who gave thought and study to it, but, according to those who allege that the figures are dubious, the machinations, over a year ahead, of my colleagues and their officials at the Ministries. I should say that would have been a singularly talented prediction.
Moreover, right hon. and hon. Gentlemen who have spoken seem to suppose that this improved balance of payments has been suddenly and spectacularly achieved in the last two months only. This is not the case. If right hon. and hon. Gentlemenhad paid attention and had watched the figures as they were emerging during the year, they would have seen that, from the turn of the year, we have been in current account surplus, and that this current account surplus has been rising steadily.
I apologise to the hon. Gentleman.
I was dealing with the suggestion that there is something extraordinary and bizarre in these figures. It would have been bizarre if these figures had been achieved not after five years but after 13 years of a Tory Government. I am sure that my right hon. Friend the present Home Secretary would have been very grateful to have inherited a surplus running at the present rate when he entered office instead of—[Interruption.] The right hon. Member for Altrincham and Sale worked himself into a state of excitement, the cause for which was not too obvious, about the nature of these figures. He said that £66 million was flashed, it was £44 million when one deducted something for the advance of neglected orders booked, and £20 million if one took off the Phantoms. Why one should take off the Phantoms since all this was disclosed in the figures when published, since they are not a regular trading continuing activity—[Interruption.] All right, let us take off the Phantoms. Let us take everything off and make the right hon. Member for Altrincham and Sale happy. We have £20 million of visible trading surplus for two months. In spite of the fact that we are said to have engineered an exaggeration, we revealed invisibles and invited an estimate of invisibles of £40 million a month, notwithstanding the fact that invisibles have been running at £50 million a month throughout the year. So we were being conservative, and not exaggerating.
If we take the lowest of those three figures of £20 million for the two months, and add £100 million, which is the same rate at which invisibles had been running in the previous months, we have a surplus for two months of £120 million on the worst possible construction of these figures. It should not be too difficult for right hon. and hon. Gentlemen opposite to multiply that by six and work out the rate at which our surplus was running during these two months. I do not know what exaggeration was required by any Government to claim that that was a remarkable improvement in our affairs. It was not a flash in the pan, but part of a consistent and well organised improvement in our balance of payments.
No, I have a lot to cover.
It is said that we have got this balance of payments position the hard way. I do not know in what other way we were to get it. None has been suggested by the party opposite, except that we should restore hon. Gentlemen opposite to office and imagine that some magical confidence, which, alas, was not continuously present during their last occupation of office, would automatically solve the balance of payments problem.
I remember that at the election someone coined a phrase for the former Prime Minister saying that the Labour Party's programme was a menu without prices. I suggest that the programme of the Conservative Party in this respect is simply an invitation to pour our money into visibly empty slot machines.
Can we talk in an adult manner about the balance of payments and economic expansion? Must we pretend that what happens in February is the result of the mischief of the Government who happened to be in office in January? Payments and expansion are the aftermath of previous years. The first years of the Labour Government's balance of payments position was largely the inevitable aftermath of what had been done in the years before they came into office. What we are laying down now is the form of a basis for a consistent balance of payments surplus which will accrue to the Government, of whatever complexion, that comes into office in the five to ten years ahead.
The reason for this is that, instead of talking airy-fairy nonsense about winning confidence, because we are the Labour Party and not the Conservatives we set to work to create at home the industrial economic basis for paying our way in the world, and abroad to start to bring sense into our inlet national monetary elation-ship to assist and underpin this effort. I am glad to be able to pay tribute to my right hon. Friend the former Chancellor of the Exchequer—[Interruption.]
My right hon. Friend the former Chancellor of the Exchequer played a leading part, to the benefit not only of this country but of the whole of world trade, by his energy, imagination and great tact and charm in furthering the cause of the special drawing rights. He was the outstanding leader in the programme for the promised land which unhappily he was not able to reach himself. My right hon. Friend the present Chancellor of the Exchequer was responsible for the Basle Agreement which for the first time put the whole sterling area on a sound basis instead of the rickety and unstable basis which prevailed throughout the Tory Party's period of office. I am glad to say that this country played a significant part in stabilising the gold and monetary situation generally in the crisis in March 1968 and thereafter.
I wish to say one sentence only to remove the last plank of the Tory platform which has been built over the last two or three years on the conviction that financial crisis was inevitable under this Government. It did not happen. I will not waste time by reading last year's speeches of the Leader of the Opposition and his henchmen indicating that financial crisis was about to come upon us and that the Government would collapse. This has gone. It was followed by the confident prediction that we would flounder in a balance of payments deficit. This too is on the way out.
The Opposition are left with one last tawdry and superficial argument—that we have got heavily into debt. This again is not true. The truth is that virtually every penny, and certainly by the end of the year every penny, of our indebtedness to the I.M.F. and the central banks will merely be an exchange of obligations already incurred under an unstable financial system and called in and necessarily financed on a reputable and sensible basis. This is the final, indefensible plank remaining in the Conservative Party's hopes for persuading the electorate.
I can assert the point about the debts in its simplest form. This country has more net assets at home and abroad, taken separately or together, than when the Labour Government entered office. Unless right hon. and hon. Members opposite want to propound an argument of finance which would be beneath the dignity of a reasonably intelligent owner of a corner grocer's shop, this means that the whole argument about our floundering in debt, and so on, is as spurious as the rest of the Tory propaganda over the last two years.
So much for the balance of payments. I now wish to refer to some of the points in the Gracious Speech. I welcome the wish of the right hon. and learned Member for St. Marylebone that we should "jazz up" the Gracious Speech. Somebody might make the prose just that little more lively without descending to the facetious. As the right hon. and learned Gentleman said, we could use this occasion to put forward some broad themes and then distribute what we call the Gracious Speech in printed form to everybody. It would make what is already a great ceremonial and impressive occasion into an occasion of intellectual and even emotional interest for those present to hear the revised Gracious Speech. I therefore do not have any difficulty in accepting that suggestion.
I cannot accept that this Gracious Speech is devoid of interest merely because it looks like being towards the last year or so of this Government's occupation of power, until renewed at the next election. The Speech contained much of great interest. There is a continuous humanitarian theme running throughout it. The attention to overseas aid, even though relatively minor in importance, is important to those affected. There is the protection of fishermen, offshore rigs and the like, the protection of people's homes from unconscionable seizure by second mortgagees, and the like.
I must now break in here for certain special reasons and particularly mention the energy and coal programme. I hope the House will permit me to go off at a tangent. We shall be introducing a Bill to continue until March 1974 powers of the kind we now have under the Coal Industry Act 1967. The power to support extra coal consumption by the electricity industry is intended strictly as a contingency power. The Bill will also retain powers until March 1974 to finance a scheme of compensation for redundant miners and to contribute towards the social costs of contraction incurred by the National Coal Board. We also intend to continue the ban on the imports of coal and on the conversion of coal-fired power stations to oil. We will keep this constantly under review.
My right hon. Friend has just approved proposals from the Central Electricity Generating Board for the next power stations to be ordered. They will be Heysham and Sizewell B, both nuclear A.G.Rs.; Drax B, which will be coal-fired; and Isle of Grain, which will be oil-fired. It will thus be seen that Drax B is firmly in the programme.
I hope that the House will forgive me for breaking in here but a Press statement is being made tonight and I know that the House will be eager to have this news, at least in outline form, before reading it in the newspapers. The point is that the Government have shown that they have a clear determination to achieve a prosperous, viable and modernised coal industry with a long and firm future ahead of it.
I do not want to dwell in detail on education at this time of night and in this sort of fragmented debate. It is best left to those who have studied the details of the legislation. It can hardly be called a trivial matter to lay these education proposals before the House as we intend to do, whatever view one holds of the changes. I gather that the right hon. and learned Gentleman's objection is that it interferes with local decision. He produced an interesting argument about the undesirable and excessive centralisation of our offairs. This is an argument we could go on with in a general way for hour after useless hour unless we come to specific cases.
There are matters in which centralisation is desirable and wise in a country as compact and closely-knit as ours, and there are others where we wish to devolve. With education within reason, one allows a certain flexibility, but the main structure of the national educational system is well settled in a general way from the centre. It should be of a consistent and coherent character. That is a matter which we will no doubt discuss in greater detail when we come to the merits of the proposal.
One of the most interesting aspects of the Gracious Speech for me is the introduction of the concept of accountability in a rather more advanced form than hitherto; that is, the merger between the Prices and Incomes Board, the Monopolies Commission and the like. For that, again, we ought to await the detailed discussion. Those who think of this as being some form of declaration by the Government to engage in meddlesome or dictatorial intervention in industry are entirely misguided. The real truth of the matter is that things change. I know that many right hon. Gentlemen opposite do not seem to be aware of that.
The other night we had to listen to a disquisition from the right hon. Member for Leeds, North-East (Sir K. Joseph), leading for the Opposition, well supported by his colleagues, in which he said that the sole task of the Government was to regulate the amount of demand and attend to one or two fiscal matters—I think that he would keep the highways clean, and such things—and that there it should end. Anything on top of that would interfere with the climate in which industry would thrive vigorously. That is what the right hon. Member for Leeds, North-East said, apart from keeping the highways clean—which I do not believe he did say. I venture to say—and I hope that it will bear repeating—that even the Conservatives have recognised that this is a quite indefensible position for a modern Government to adopt, for they themselves have intervened on a much more copious scale than the pure doctrine of this philosophy, so firmly uttered, would seem to justify.
I venture to tell the hon. Member for Oswestry (Mr. Biffen), who applauded this statement—his head proudly high—that he must not think that time stood still simply because his own watch had stopped. I ventured to suggest that there were many other Members of his party to whom that would apply in the comments they have made about the concept of accountability. Accountability is simply a framework within which we are able to know how we can reasonably deploy such market or other power that we have in society without in jury to our fellow men and without prejudice to the common weal; indeed, furthering the common interest and common prosperity.
None of this, in a society such as ours, could be effective or come into being exclusively on a coercive basis. It must be based wholly or mainly on co-operation. But there must be some reserve power which prevents people from feeling that they ought not to co-operate since everyone else is free to do entirely and wholly what he pleases, without regard to any kind of rule or principle.
I would have thought that the right hon. and learned Member for St. Marylebone would have welcomed this and held forth upon it rather more than upon the other things that he mentioned, because of the moral content involved in the concept of accountability and in the use of our power in society, whether the power be the power of a mighty industrialist or the power of a trade union or trade unionist. This is the heart of the problem of living together in a modern society with reasonable decency and reasonably civilised and humane conditions. It is a problem that troubles every society and it is a problem with which I claim our society, here in England, is making more progress than any other country.
I have listened to some of the statements made from hon. Members opposite, calculated to make us feel dejected or degraded or to think that our country has gone down in the world, but when I go round the world and look at other countries I see my own country, under this Government, as an oasis of good Government and progress and civilised behaviour, and of hope for the future on a rational basis, unlike the right hon. and learned Gentleman, who seems to think than student unrest, juvenile crime, drug taking and the like are unique features of Britain under a Labour Government—altogether blind to the fact that all these mischiefs and difficulties of modern society are better dealt with and better regulated in our land and that far from being held in contempt by the rest of the world our country is increasingly being looked at with envy and admiration by eyes from more troubled shores.